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in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS IVIembers and Sloan Foundation 

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Miisemn of Art 

Nell Gwyn by Sir Peter Lely 


Royal Mhfress 



Pellegrini & Cudahy 
New York 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number ^i-12'jsj 

Copyright, 7^52, by John Harold Wilson 

Manufactured in the United States 

by H. Wolff, New York 


Louise Wilson 
Her Book 


FOR FINANCIAL and other aids in the long process of 
preparing this biography I am grateful to the Trustees of 
the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, to Louis Booker 
Wright and the Trustees of the Folger Shakespeare Library, 
and to Paul N. Hudson, Dean of the Graduate School, and 
James F. Fullington, Chairman of the English Department, 
the Ohio State University. I am indebted also to many 
friends and colleagues for suggestions, information, encour- 
agement, and criticism, particularly George K. Boyce, of 
the Pierpont Morgan Library, William Van Lennep, of the 
Harvard College Library, James M. Osborne, Richard 
D. AMck, Charles E. Ward, WilHam Charvat, Claude M. 
Simpson, Jr., Myra T. McCrory, John W. Nichol, Bernard 
R. Jerman, and, above all, William Riley Parker. 


I The Gwyns of Covent Garden i 

II From Barmaid to Actress 1 5 

III His Maj esty 's Servants 3 3 

IV "Pretty, Witty Nell" 51 
V Summoned by the King 77 

VI Fruitful Interlude 97 

VII A Lady of Pleasure 113 

VIII The Rival Ladies 131 

IX "Madam Ellen Gwyn" 157 

X The Triple Combats 173 

XI Intrigues and Politics 195 

XII The Great Panic 2 1 7 

XIII Counter- winds 237 

XIV Rue with a Difference 255 
XV Joy in Heaven 269 

Appendix— Nell's Letters 285 

Bibliographical Notes 293 

Index ^01 

Ihe Gwyns 

of Covent 


I 6 s 


IKE CLEOPATRA or Helen of Troy, Nell Gwyn 
belongs as much to folklore as to history. The facts about 
her life and character have been overlaid by fable and 
anecdote. Many people remember her as the mistress of a 
king, but like Huck Finn they are not sure which king. 
"My, you ought to seen old Henry the Eighth when he 
was in bloom," said Huck. "He was a blossom. He used 
to marry a new wife every day and chop off her head next 
morning, and he would do it just as indifferent as if he was 
ordering up eggs. Tetch up Nell Gwyn,' he says. They 
fetch her up. Next morning, 'chop off her head!' " 

Better informed than Huck, we know, of course, that 
Nell was the mistress of King Charles II, a monarch not 
given to maiden beheading. But our further knowledge of 
her has been drawn from more than two centuries of 
anecdotes, romances, sentimental plays, and popular biog- 
raphies. We are conditioned to think of her as "sweet Nell 
of Old Drury," a happy-go-lucky child of the slums who 
flourished in good King Charles's golden days, rose from 
poverty to a palace, and died repentant, leaving behind her 
a trail of good works. The moral Victorians, whenever 
they wrote about her, suppressed or bowdlerized her 
bawdy sayings, choosing to ignore those facts of her life 
which collided with the legend of her goodness; thev even 
overpainted portraits which displayed an embarrassing 


4 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

expanse of her uncovered bosom. They canonized her as 
Saint Nell the Good, disinfected and triumphant, a kind, 
generous, charitable, unseeking, loyal, friendly— and com- 
pletely mythical— character. 

Nell was not a divinity but a woman, composed of good 
and evil, capable of kindness and of meanness as well. 
Compelled to earn her way in the world, she lived pre- 
cariously as actress and mistress, keeping herself from dis- 
aster and achieving an astonishing social and economic 
success largely by force of her physical attractions and her 
broad humor. She was coarse, friendly, extravagant, gen- 
erous, giddy, loyal, greedy, humorous, and ambitious— in 
short, an extroverted human being who lived a full, inter- 
esting, and not so very merry, life. 

Our information about Nell comes from a variety of 
sources, not all of which are reliable. There are some legal 
facts: deeds, wills, warrants, state papers, theatrical rec- 
ords, and the like, which are not to be challenged. Infor- 
mation derived from contemporary newspapers, letters, 
diaries, memoirs, and histories varies in value with the hon- 
esty of the writer. Anecdotes, especially if told by NelFs 
contemporaries, are always useful, but anonymous stories 
have a bad habit of floating about loosely and attaching 
themselves to any prominent person. Finally we have a 
number of prose and verse lampoons or libels, usually 
anonymous and always infused with the spirit of slander. 
Circulated in manuscript or printed and sold as broadsides, 
these satires served the function of modem editorials and 
were often as well informed. From all these sources it is 
possible to draw the story of NelFs life and the world she 
lived in. 

The Gwyns of Covent Garden 5 

In the middle of the seventeenth century, London, with 
a population estimated at half a million, sprawled loosely 
along the curving north bank of the Thames, which was 
at once its highroad and its sewer. The older part of the 
metropolis, the "City," still bound within its medieval 
walls and gates, was a roaring confusion of narrow, cob- 
ble-paved streets, shops, and warehouses. Hackneys and 
drays fought for the right of way, apprentices before every 
shop cried their ''What d'ye lack?" at pedestrians, and 
everywhere hawkers bawled their wares: fruits and veg- 
etables in season, milk, custards, herrings and oysters, old 
clothes, and Newcastle coal. The ancient plaster and tim- 
ber houses, leaning wearily against each other and threat- 
ening to topple into the streets, were fire-traps teeming 
with rats, lice, and people. No one had the least notion of 
sanitation. Refuse, human and animal offal, was heaped up 
on noisome laystalls about the city or was dumped into the 
streets and flushed down the kennel (the gutter in the mid- 
dle of the street) when it rained. 

A mile westward from the limits of the City was West- 
minster, with the old royal palace of Whitehall, the Par- 
liament buildings and Westminster Abbey, piles of brick 
and stone set without plan along the river bank. Behind 
them, away from the river, were St. James's Park, St. 
James's Palace, and the new, exclusive neighborhoods of 
Pall Mall and St. James's Square. Midway beuveen these 
western suburbs and the limits of the City was the Covent 
Garden district, bounded by Drury Lane, Longacre 
Street, St. Martin's Lane, and the Strand. This was the 
scene of Nell's childhood. 

According to her horoscope, still preserved in the Bod- 

6 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

leian Library at Oxford, Ellen Gwyn was bom at six 
o'clock on the morning of Saturday, February 2, 1650, 
with the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and Mars all happily in 
conjunction. Properly Mars should have been in the as- 
cendant; Nell came into a world torn by revolution and 
troubled by rumors of war. Only a year earlier the Eng- 
lish nation had deposed its lawful monarch and chopped 
off his head. For the moment England was a republic gov- 
erned by a council of state (with John Milton as foreign 
secretary), backed by the power of Oliver Cromwell, gen- 
eral of the Roundhead army and soon to become Lord Pro- 
tector of the realm. King Charles II, twenty years old, was 
in Scotland, suffering under the fire-and-damnation ser- 
mons of covenanting preachers as he sought support for an 
invasion of his lost kingdom. Meanwhile many an English 
cavalier prayed daily for his return and was destined to 
continue praying for ten long years while enduring a re- 
gime which proscribed actors, cut down May-poles, for- 
bade music, dancing, games, sports, and holidays, made 
adultery a capital crime, and took all the fun out of life. 
Nell was bom somewhere in or near the Co vent Gar- 
den district, a curiously confused region, with the open 
piazza of Covent Garden and the spire of St. Paul's Church 
as its center, surrounded by fashionable residences cheek 
by jowl with lodging houses, ale houses, shops, brothels, 
and the hovels of the poor. To the north, in the mid- 
seventeenth century, lay open fields, and to the south were 
the great palaces and gardens of the nobility, and the broad 
reaches of the Thames. Two streets in the Covent Garden 
district have long competed for the honor of Nell's na- 
tivity: the Cole- Yard, a squalid alley off Drury Lane, 

The Gwyns of Covent Garden 7 

northeast of Covent Garden, and the Hop Garden, a 
shabby little by-way off St. Martin's Lane, southwest of 
Covent Garden. Since both streets have long since disap- 
peared in the rush and roar of modern London, their com- 
petition must continue on an academic plane. 

Nell's father was a yeoman too insignificant to leave his 
mark— much less his first name— upon the records of the 
times. His surname suggests that he was of Welsh extrac- 
tion, but Gwyns in Wales are as plentiful as blackberries. 
So far as we know Nell herself never mentioned him, and 
it is a reasonable presumption that he died while she was 
still an infant. The anonymous author of a lampoon on 
Nell, "A Panegyric" (1681), asserted that her father died 
in a debtors prison in Oxford, and that in the days of her 
wealth Nell "gloried" 

In giving others life and liberty, 

So pious a remembrance still she bore 

Ev'n to the fetters that her father wore. 

Nell's mother was much better known. Off St. Martin's 
Lane, a stone's throw south of the Hop Garden, was St. 
Martin's Church. Here, in the south aisle, there long stood 
a monument with the legend, "Here lies interred the body 
of Helena Gwyn, bom in this parish, who departed this 
life the 20th of July MDCLXXIX, in the Ivi year of her 
age." In the burial register of the parish for July 30, 1679, 
she is listed as "Mrs. Eleanor Gwyn, Widow," but the dis- 
crepancy in Christian names is not important. Her con- 
temporaries called her "old Madam Gwyn," or merely 
"Madam Gwyn," and we may follow their example. 

Old Madam Gwyn was a thoroughly disreputable char- 

8 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

acter. She was an enormously fat woman who smoked and 
drank to excess and had been in her youth "skilled in arts 
of gallantry." There are good reasons for believing that 
at the time of Nell's birth and for some years afterward 
she kept a bawdyhouse in the Covent Garden district. Nell 
herself made no bones about the matter. In 1667 two 
slightly different versions of her retort to the taunts of a 
fellow actress, Beck Marshall, were circulated. In one Nell 
was quoted as saying that she was "born in a bawdyhouse" 
and "brought up in a playhouse," in the other that she 
was "brought up in a bawdyhouse to fill strong waters 
[brandy] to the guests." 

Until Nell came to her mother's rescue some time after 
1670, took her into her own home and eventually set her 
up in a house in Chelsea, old Madam Gwyn lived a pre- 
carious life. According to a usually reliable contemporary, 
Sir Francis Fane, one day (about 1670) Nell was driving 
through the city in her coach and saw her mother selling 
apples in the street. Stopping her coach, Nell called to her 
mother, bidding her serve God and He would provide for 
her as He had provided for Nell! Having had her joke, 
Nell relented, turned visible providence and not only 
maintained her mother but kept her well suppHed with al- 
coholic beverages. In July, 1679, after a hearty debauch, 
old Madam Gwyn fell into a stream near her home and 
was drowned. 

Her death was the occasion for a libelous chorus of 
poets to rake over her lurid past, asserting that she had been 
"Maid, punk, and bawd, full sixty years and more," and 
that "Bawd was her life, and common-shore her death." 
The author of a black-bordered "Elegy upon that never to 

The Givyns of Covent Garden 9 

be forgotten matron, old Madam Gwyn," (1679), pro- 
fessed to mourn as much for the brandy merchants as for 
the dear departed, their best customer, 

That in one day could twenty quarts consume, 
And bravely vaunt she durst it twice presume. 

In the intervals of drinking. 

She would a pipe with expedition fill. 

And then could force the vapor to abound 

That clouds of smoke would oft invade her round. 

She was so fat that the poet was at a loss for comparisons: 

I will not say with Tryphon's her vast bulk 
Overspread nine acres, yet her mighty hulk 
Six foot in compass was supposed to be, 
Too ponderous for a common destiny. 

Finally the mock-elegist called upon those of her own 
kind to follow the hearse: the "Red-noses" who ''live by 
drinking," the "social topers," and the "Sons of Vulcan" 
who "Belch perpetual fume," and those light ladies 

Who are most skilled in arts of gallantry, 

As such who scorn to turn their backs on men, 

But if they close will close with them again. 

The author of a "True account of the late most doleful 
and lamentable tragedy of old Madam Gwyn, mother to 
Madam Eleanor Gwyn" made much of the deceased's pro- 
fession. She was, said he, a "chief matron [ba^d]" who 
had recently been at great expense "to find out an ingeni- 
ous method to restore lost maidenheads, that so she might 
to her abundant profit make a double mortgage to such 
buffoon beauty hunters who daily accosted her for the 

lo Nell Gnjoyn: Royal Mistress 

procuration of some rose-buds though June be passed, as 
likewise to find out a private tincture for to sprucify her 
daughter's decayed physiognomy." Her death, he con- 
cluded, "caused a universal grief among the buxom bona- 
robas [prostitutes]." 

Rose Gwyn, NelFs older sister, made up for a misspent 
youth by a respectable maturity. In December, 1663, when 
Rose was at least fifteen and probably older, she was 
charged with theft, a capital offense in that day. Convicted 
at the Old Bailey, she was reprieved by the intercession of 
a higher authority and allowed to appeal for a pardon. 
While she lay in jail waiting for the slow machinery of 
state to grind into motion, she was visited by two young 
courtiers, a Mr. Browne, Cupbearer to the Duke of York 
(the King's younger brother), and Henry Killigrew, 
Groom of the Bedchamber to the Duke. 

Killigrew was the son of Thomas Killigrew, Groom of 
the Bedchamber to the King and Master of the King's 
Theatre. He was also, by virtue of his recent marriage, 
brother-in-law to Sir Charles Sedley ("Little Sid for simile 
renowned"), a Court poet and dramatist. At twenty-six 
Killigrew was notorious as a humorist, duellist, drinker, 
and liar— particularly the last. Within a few years he was 
to become even more famous as founder of "the bailers," 
a group of courtiers who paid regular visits to "Lady" 
Bennet's brothel and danced naked with her nymphs. 
Quarrelsome, dissolute, and incapable of ever holding his 
libelous tongue, Killigrew was involved in one lurid scrape 
after another, and usually managed to escape punishment, 
thanks to his drollery and masterly prevarication. 

On December 26, 1663, Rose wrote to Browne, thank- 

The Gwyns of Covent Garden ii 

ing him for "his and Mr. Killigrew's civil visit," and beg- 
ging that she might be admitted to bail until her pardon 
was ready. She denied that she had ever been a thief and 
pleaded that her pardon had already been granted (by the 
King), although not yet passed by the proper authorities. 
She complained that her father had "lost all he had in 
service of the late king," Charles I— a common enough 
claim in the early years of the Restoration, and one not to 
be trusted. Her letter had an immediate result: four days 
later she was out on bail. Her pardon followed in due 

There can be only one explanation of this sequence of 
events: Browne and Killigrew had a more than friendly in- 
terest in Rose's welfare. If Rose was not technically a 
member of the Oldest Profession, she was at best a demi- 
mondaine with whom the two young rakehells had be- 
come intimate during their rambles among the dives of 
Covent Garden. If Nell served strong waters to the guests 
in her mother's bawdy house, what did Rose serve? Cer- 
tainly Rose was sufficiently notorious in tavern society. 
The author of "The Haymarket Hectors" (1671), who 
referred to Nell as "the sister of Rose," expected his read- 
ers to know the older sister as well as they did the younger, 
and by that time Nell was the King's mistress! 

Some time in 1671 or 1672 Rose married one John Cas- 
sels, a captain in the Duke of Monmouth's guards. This 
gentleman, as his widow wrote twenty years after his 
death, had "for many years served the crown to the great 
expense of his fortune"— another common and doubtful 
claim. But it was certainly not his long and arduous serv- 
ices which, on November 8, 1672, secured from the s^rate- 

12 Nell Gnjoyn: Royal Mistress 

ful crown a pension of £ioo a year "to Capt. John Cassels 
and Rose his wife" out of the Irish revenue— the usual 
source for funds granted to the King's mistresses and fa- 
vorites. Two years later Cassels was killed at the battle of 
Enzheim. The kindly King took good care of sister Rose; 
on October 30, 1675, he increased her pension to £200. 
Some time before 1679 she was further consoled by a new 
husband, a Mr. Guy Forster. 

Rose was never wealthy, but as long as Nell lived her 
pension was always paid, and she was never in want. The 
two sisters kept in close touch, and Rose occasionally did 
little services for Nell. In 1675, for example, she did some 
shopping for Nell and submitted the bills for her pur- 
chases with little notes in her own hand. Otherwise Rose 
remained an undistinguished and harmless person who 
spent her life trading on her sister's fame. She was still 
alive in 1694, petitioning for the renewal of her pension, 
unpaid since the accession of William and Mary. She de- 
scribed herself as "Rose Forster, widow, sister to Mrs. 
Ellen Gwyn, mother to the Duke of St. Albans." 

Besides her sister and her son, the Duke of St. Albans, 
Nell had (or chose to remember) only one other relative 
still living when she made her will in 1687. This was one 
William Cholmley, a "kinsman" to whom she bequeathed 
£100. The author of "A Panegyric" (1681), after touch- 
ing on Nell's father and mother, concluded. 

Nor must her cousin be forgot, preferred 
From many years command in the Black-Guard 
To be an ensign; 

Whose tattered colors well do represent 
His first estate in the ragged regiment. 

The Givyns of Covent Garden 13 

The origins of this cousin, Hke Nell's, were low: the mem- 
bers of the "Black-Guard" were tattered waifs, link-boys, 
whose smoking torches lighted wayfarers through the 
pitch-black streets at night. But the power of a royal mis- 
tress could easily transform a vagabond into an officer and 
a gentleman. On October 17, 1678, a commission was is- 
sued for "William Cholmley to be ensign in Colonel John 
Russell's regiment of Foot Guards." By 1681 Cholmley 
had risen to the rank of captain in the Coldstream Guards. 
The accounts of Nell's executors list on January 25, 1689, 
"Paid Mr. Warner for Mr. Will. Cholmley-£ioo." The 
use of "Mr." instead of the military title was by no means 
unusual, and the fact that Mr. Warner, Nell's chaplain, 
collected the money, suggests that Cholmley was abroad 
at the time, probably with his regiment. 

These, then, were the Gwyns of Covent Garden: a 
nameless father, a dipsomaniac mother, a notorious sister, 
a vagabond cousin, and Nell herself. And the setting for 
this family? A bawdyhouse, a debtors prison at Oxford, 
the Old Bridewell of London, the narrow dark streets and 
evil slums of Covent Garden. Out of this dungheap grew 
a lily— a tiger lily. 


Barmaid to 


i 6 J o - I 664 

1 1 


NE OF THE greatest triumphs of Nell's life was 
her ability to survive infancy and childhood. In seven- 
teenth-century England more than half of the babies born 
each year died before they reached the advanced age of 
two, and in the slums the proportion of deaths was much 
higher. But Nell was tough-fibred and fortunate. She sur- 
vived bad air, filth and vermin, childhood diseases and the 
far more dangerous treatments of physicians, the small 
beer which even children drank in preference to water, 
and the food which at best was coarse and monotonous. 
She grew up— a small girl, but active and wiry, lively, cheer- 
ful, and fun-loving. 

Nell was less than two years old when young King 
Charles led an army of Scotch Covenanters into England 
in a desperate gamble for his throne. At the Battle of 
Worcester (September 3, 1651) the outnumbered and out- 
generaled invaders broke and fled before the pikes of 
CromwelFs Ironsides. For a month thereafter "Charles 
Stuart, a long dark man, above two yards tall," w^ith a price 
of £1,000 on his head, wandered through England, dis- 
guised as a country bumpkin, and accompanied only by 
such faithful friends as Lord Henry Wilmot and Father 
John Huddlestone. Passed on from one loyal subject to 
another, he hid in ditches, lofts, and peasant cottages, and 
once spent a long day in the sheltering boughs of a hollow 


iS Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

oak, thereafter immortalized as the Royal Oak of Boscobel. 
Finally he reached a seaport and escaped into France, bear- 
ing with him a story which he never tired of retelling in 
later years— to the weariness of his listeners. 

Nell was three when the Long Parliament— the last fee- 
ble remnant of lawful government— was finally dissolved, 
and she was nearly four when Oliver Cromwell took his 
seat in Whitehall Palace as Lord Protector. There were 
wars going on with Holland, Portugal, and Spain while she 
was still under six. England lived by martial law under the 
government of major-generals, one for each of twelve sec- 
tional divisions. Puritanism lay like a bHght over the islands, 
while on the continent exiled King Charles vainly sought 
support from the crowned heads of Europe. The king 
without a country and his family of refugees were church- 
mouse poor, nibbling at the crumbs dropped from royal 
tables. Charles's mother, the French princess Henrietta- 
Maria, secretly married again to Henry Jermyn (later Earl 
of St. Albans) , supported herself, her husband, and her lit- 
tle daughter Henrietta on a pension granted by her nephew, 
Louis XIV of France. Louis would gladly have helped his 
royal cousin with money and arms, but he was still a youth 
(nine years younger than Charles) and under the firm grip 
of his wily prime minister. Cardinal Mazarin, who had 
formed an alliance with Cromwell. Charles's other sister, 
Mary, widow of William II of Orange, had little money 
and less power, and his two younger brothers, James, Duke 
of York, and Henry, Duke of Gloucester (who died in 
1660), to stave off starvation took service with the armies 
of Spain in its endless war with France. 

Hopelessly King Charles wandered from Paris to Co- 

From Barmaid to Actress 19 

logne, Bruges, Brussels, and Holland, pursued by Crom- 
well's relentless enmity, followed by a host of hungry 
courtiers, and supported always by the calm strength and 
financial wizardry of Sir Edward Hyde (later Earl of Clar- 
endon and Lord Chancellor), who never lost hope. For 
diversion the King played with a succession of light dam- 
sels, rioted with such boon companions as the brilliant, un- 
stable George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and vainly 
proposed marriage to a number of wealthy and well-con- 
nected heiresses, among them Hortense, the youngest of 
the three beautiful Mancini sisters, nieces of Cardinal Maza- 
rin. Young King Louis fell desperately in love with the 
two older sisters— first Olympia, then Marie— but the Car- 
dinal stubbornly refused to let him marry either. His nieces 
were not good matches for the King of France; thev were 
too good for the refugee King of England. 

In 1658, when Nell was eight years old, the King's for- 
tunes were at their lowest ebb, and the flighty Duke of 
Buckingham deserted the ship of monarchy, returned to 
England, made his peace with Cromwell, and married Mary 
Fairfax, the heiress of a Roundhead general. In August 
that year, a terrible storm fell upon England, blew down 
great trees, unroofed houses, wrecked ships in harbors, and 
brought his last sickness to Oliver Cromwell, "the Beast 
in Revelations." He died on September 3. King Charles 
received the happy news at Hoogstraeten in Holland, and 
his small Court went mad with joy. Nell Gwn was too 
young to be interested in anything but the storm. Besides, 
the news of great events filtered slowly through the sea- 
coal smoke and fog of London, and the people of the 

20 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress ^ 

slums, lost in their own small lives, had no ears for the af- 
fairs of the nation. 

But the stirring news of the next two years penetrated 
even to the alleys of Co vent Garden. In May, 1659, the 
members of the old Long Parliament returned, to be scorn- 
fully nicknamed the "Rump" Parliament. There was 
growing talk of the King's return; with him would come 
a flood of high-living, free-spending gentry. The Uquor 
sellers of Covent Garden had profited during the Puritan 
regime— when all other amusements were forbidden, men 
turned more than ever to the pleasures of wine— but the 
clothiers, haberdashers, and jewelers had sold little to the 
dank Puritan politicians. Even the children were excited. 
Their elders could remember better days when there were 
football games in the open area of Covent Garden, puppet 
shows, and mountebanks and quack doctors with their 
zanies; when there was music in the Spring Garden in St. 
James's Park and dancing in the streets to tunes scraped 
out by vagrant fiddlers. 

When General Monk entered London with his army on 
February 3, 1660 (the day after Nell's tenth birthday), and 
declared for a free Parliament, the whole city turned out 
to greet him, and in every street that night rumps of beef 
were roasted at open fires to celebrate the end of the Rump 
Parliament. And when King Charles came back to Lon- 
don on May 29 (his thirtieth birthday) and paraded down 
the Strand to Whitehall with a glorious company (includ- 
ing the disloyal Duke of Buckingham, renovated and for- 
given), the city exploded with joy. The streets were 
strewn with flowers, the church bells clanged, the foun- 
tains ran with wine, the City Companies appeared in livery 

From Barmaid to Actress 21 

with banners and golden chains, the windows and bal- 
conies along the Strand were crowded with ladies and 
gentlemen in velvet and gold and silver, there were blaring 
trumpets and thundering drums. It was a brave new world 
indeed. (And that night King Charles slept in the arms of 
his newest mistress, Barbara Palmer, wife of Roger Palmer, 
Esquire, daughter of William Villiers, Lord Grandison, 
and cousin of the Duke of Buckingham.) 

The Restoration era opened in glory, and poets prophe- 
sied an age of peace and prosperity. The exiles swarmed 
back to England; Parliament met and poured gold into the 
King's lap; the nation crowned him in a roar of loyal 
fervor that made the welkin ring twice; there was a year 
of honeymoon, saddened only by the deaths of Henry, 
Duke of Gloucester, and Mary, Princess of Orange. Queen 
Henrietta-Maria returned to England to break up a pro- 
jected marriage between her son James, Duke of York, 
and Chancellor Clarendon's daughter Anne, but she was 
too late. The lady was already with child by James, and 
the Duke obstinately insisted upon making an honest 
woman of her. Little Henrietta ("Minette," the King's fa- 
vorite sister) came to England with her mother but within 
a few weeks returned to France to marry Phihp, Duke of 
Orleans, brother of Louis XIV. King Charles gave himself 
up to luxury with Mrs. Palmer, whose husband he created 
Baron of Limerick and Earl of Castlemaine in the peerage 
of Ireland, with remainder to "the males got of the body 
of this wife, the Lady Barbara," said Pepys, "the reason 
whereof everybody knows." 

Barbara was tall, supple, fair, blue-eyed, and so beauti- 
ful that many observers considered her the "finest" woman 

2 2 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

in England in her time. Her education in sex had started 
before she was quite fifteen, with Philip Stanhope, Earl of 
Chesterfield, as her tutor, and the vicious Lady Anne 
Hamilton (later Lady Southesk) as his assistant. (For a 
short time the three had a menage a trois.) After Barbara's 
reluctant marriage to Roger Palmer, and even after she 
had entered upon her liaison with King Charles, she con- 
tinued to see Chesterfield. To entertain a husband and two 
lovers at the same time was no great feat for a nympho- 
maniac who by the end of her sensational career could 
hardly count the number of men in her life. Barbara was 
spoiled, petulant, and imperious. When she flew into a 
tantrum— as she often did— her eyes flashed and her tongue 
poured forth a torrent of profanity and abuse. She was in- 
tensely avaricious and extravagant and for years kept the 
King poor paying her debts and complying with her de- 
mands. "She was a woman of pleasure," said Bishop Bur- 
net, "and stuck at nothing that would either serve her ap- 
petites or her passions; she was vastly expensive, and by 
consequence very covetous; she was weak, and so was 
easily managed"— by politicians, not by the King, whom 
she managed in turn. Nine months after the Restoration 
Lady Castlemaine presented her royal lover with a daugh- 
ter, insisting that he was the child's father. The parentage 
was promptly acknowledged by the Earl of Castlemaine 
and, some years later and only after much bullying, by the 
King. The gossips insisted that the Earl of Chesterfield 
was the real father. 

In some ways it was a far cry from Whitehall Palace to 
a Covent Garden bawdyhouse, but in the reign of Charles 
II the palace— home of the King, his family, and his swarms 

From Barmaid to Actress 25 

of functionaries— was the greater brothel of the two. In 
fact, a seventeenth-century bawdyhouse was not strictly a 
brothel; it was a drinking establishment with a woman 
proprietor who served also as a bawd. The true brothels 
were large establishments in Moorfields, Whetstone Park^ 
and Dog-and-Bitch Yard, kept by such famous procurers 
as "Lady" Bennet, Madam Cresswell, "Mother" Temple, 
and Damaris Page. Annually during Lent (when flesh was 
forbidden) the London apprentices attacked such houses 
and partially demolished them, to the great amusement of 
the constables. Bawdy houses were more like the "pitiful 
alehouse near Bartholomew Fair" where the diarist Samuel 
Pepys went once with a friend and "had a dirty slut or 
two come up that were whores," or like a little place near 
the House of Lords where he went one day to drink 
wormwood ale, and which "doubtless was a bawdy-house, 
the mistress of the house having the look and dress." 

A bawdyhouse was often no more than a cellar, or a 
barren room above a shop in some unsavory street. Al- 
though there might be a seedy-looking husband in the 
background, the place was usually presided over by some 
old, weatherbeaten trull who, aided by a young girl, 
served her guests ale, wine, or the more expensive Nantes 
brandy. The equipment was cheap: a few plain tables with 
candles, some stools and chairs, and the necessary jugs, 
bottles, and glasses. The professional damsels, who ap- 
peared on signal, lived elsewhere but had rooms in the 
building at their disposal. They sold their favors at almost 
any price from a shilling to a crown, and when trade was 
bad they would rather accept sixpence than go without 
employment. The guests ranged from courtiers, law stu- 

24 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

dents, tradesmen, and soldiers, to thieves, pickpockets, and 
Mr. Pepys. 

It was in some such place that Nell Gwyn served strong 
waters to the guests. In a world which looked upon a girl 
as marriageable at the age of twelve, a ten-year-old was no 
longer quite a child. It took nerve to move about through 
a roomful of ribald men, carrying bottles and glasses and 
evading the clutch of lecherous hands. It took impudence 
if not wit to bandy profane repartee with the customers; it 
took cunning to protect money from pickpockets, and 
agility to duck flying bottles when a brawl broke out. It 
was a rough school for a youngster. 

According to the lampoon writers of later years Nell 
engaged in a variety of occupations. Of course such writ- 
ers depended on hearsay, and their fancies took over when 
rumor flagged. Mr. Lacy, the author of "Satire" (1677), 
claims that Nell's 

. . . first employment was, with open throat 
To cry fresh herrings, even at ten a groat. 

The writer of "A Panegyric" (1681) asserts that she first 
raked cinders, then sold apples about the streets, and at last 
became an orange-girl: 

Even while she cinders raked, her swelling breast 

With thoughts of glorious whoredom was possessed. 

But first the basket her fair arm did suit, 

Laden with pippins and Hesperian fruit. 

This first step raised, to the wondering pit she sold 

The lovely fruit, smiling with streaks of gold. 

In "Mrs. Nelly's Complaint" (1682) she is made to cry to 
the reader. 

From Barmaid to Actress 25 

You that have seen me in my youthful age 
Preferred from stall of turnips to the stage . . . 

The alleged poet who wrote "The Lady of Pleasure" 
(1687) agreed that Nell's first vocation was cinder raking 
and drew a charming picture of her in the street, 

With face of potlid black, unshod her feet, 
And in a cloud of dust her cinders shaking. 

But his lubricous imagination brought forth an interesting 
explanation for her rise to the stage. He accused her of 
charming "a cully of the city" who, after enjoying her for 
a while, "grew Nelly-sick" and sent her to the playhouse, 

Where soon she grew, being in her proper sphere, 
The pride and envy of the theatre. 

During the years from 1660 to 1663, while Nell was 
furiously busy serving strong waters, selling herrings, ap- 
ples, turnips, and Heaven knows what other comestibles 
(and seducing cullies of the city in her spare moments!), 
the groundwork of her future was being prepared else- 
where. Shortly after the restoration of King Charles two 
major theatrical companies were formed: the Duke's Com- 
pany, headed by Sir William Davenant, and the King's 
Company, with Thomas Killigrew as master. Both com- 
panies were quickly established in Lincoln's Inn Fields, 
northeast of Covent Garden, in tennis-court buildings con- 
verted into theatres. Almost from the first, ^^^omen were 
employed for feminine roles, a revolutionarv novelty im- 
ported from France. Boys and young men had played such 
parts from Elizabethan times up to the closing of the the- 
atres in 1642. Even with women playing women's roles, 

26 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

there was such a shortage of capable actresses that for some 
years men played some of the feminine parts in a number 
of productions, in accordance with the old tradition. One 
well-worn anecdote tells that King Charles, coming a trifle 
early to a performance of Hamlet, sent backstage to learn 
why the play did not begin at once. The messenger 
brought word that the queen (played by Edward Kynas- 
ton) was not yet shaved. "Ods fish," cried the King, "I 
beg her majesty's pardon! We'll wait till her barber has 
done with her." 

It was not long before the prospering King's Company 
began to feel cramped in its small quarters. Early in 1662 
it began the construction of a more commodious theatre 
in the Covent Garden section, between Bridges Street and 
Drury Lane. Of course twelve-year-old Nell was too 
young for the stage, but the new theatre would employ a 
number of people in other capacities; there might be some 
kind of post for her. She had influential friends: her sister 
Rose was intimate with Henry Killigrew, son of the the- 
atre's chief shareholder and manager. 

In February, 1663, the King's Company granted to Mrs. 
Mary Meggs, a widow, the right to sell "oranges, lemons, 
fruits, sweetmeats, and all manner of fruiterers and con- 
fectioners wares" in the new theatre, which was nearly 
finished. She was to be allowed three assistants and room 
under the stairs backstage for the storage of her goods. 
Mrs. Meggs had employment for three girls as assistants. 
Their function would be to parade about with their bas- 
kets of eatables or to stand in the pit with their backs to 
the stage, on the alert for customers and crying their wares 
between the acts. For such duties she needed pretty, quick- 

From Barmaid to Actress 27 

witted, impudent girls, attractive to the gentlemen who 
paid half a crown for the privilege of sitting on the back- 
less benches of the pit, and capable of coaxing or shaming 
the said gentlemen into paying sixpence apiece for small 
"China" oranges, the staple commodity. For such a post 
Nell Gwyn, now thirteen, was thoroughly qualified by 
nature and previous experience. And "Madam" Rose, her 
sister, was in a position to get her the job. 

Mr. Lacy (who may have been John Lacy, actor and 
playwright), in "Satire" (1677), summarized Nell's his- 
tory by calling on King Charles to 

Witness the royal line sprung from the belly 
Of thy anointed princess, Madam Nelly, 
Whose first employment was, with open throat, 
To cry fresh herrings, even at ten a groat; 
Then was by Madam Rose exposed to the town, 
I mean to those that would give half a crown. 
Next, in the playhouse she took her degree. 
As men commence in the university- 
No doctors till they've masters been before— 
So no player till first she has been a whore. 
Look back and see the people mad with rage 
To see the bitch in so high equipage; 
And every day they do the monster see. 
They let ten thousand curses fly at thee. 

The high equipage and the curses were both still far in 
the future; meanwdiile Nell had her first real step up in 
life. The King's Theatre, brave with paint and scenery, 
opened its doors on May 7, 1663, and if Nell was not one 
of the original orange-girls she soon became a member of 
the sorority. 

2 8 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

Economically this was a considerable promotion for her. 
An orange-girl worked six days a week (the theatres were 
closed on Sundays), and her small earnings were often 
eked out with a coin pressed in her hand by a gentleman 
as payment for running an errand, or as earnest of future 
reward for favors to be granted. She was better dressed: in 
smock, stays, petticoat, shoes, and a coarse "stuff" gown 
with a handkerchief about her neck. But best of all was the 
glamorous excitement of the ever-changing world of the 

The King's House was a large, barn-like, wooden struc- 
ture, about a hundred feet long by sixty wide, with a 
glazed cupola which let in some measure of daylight and, 
in bad weather, so much rain that the people in the pit 
were forced to flee. The building was draughty and heated 
only by the animal warmth of the audience and by the 
flames of candles along the walls and over the stage. The 
young bloods of the town sat in the pit (2s. 6d.), bantered 
with the orange-girls, flirted with drabs wearing vizard 
masks and pretending to be ladies of quality, laughed, 
fought, and showed off their wit at the expense of the 
playwright. The beauties of the Court and most royal and 
noble dignitaries sat in the side boxes (4s.), raised so little 
above the pit that amorous exchanges took place between 
the two levels. More sedate folk sat in the middle gallery 
(is.6d.), and the poorest crowded into the upper tier 
(is.) where footmen and coachmen were admitted free 
near the end of the play. Musicians under the stage dis- 
coursed sw^eet music before the play began and between 
the acts. Performances began at three o'clock in the after- 
noon. There were no reserved seats. Fashionable folk sent 

From Barmaid to Actress 29 

their footmen to hold places for them and, as always, ar- 
rived late. 

Here, under the tutelage of Orange Moll and her Rabe- 
laisian customers, Nell completed her education in vulgar 
repartee and profanity. She became particularly adept at 
the latter. Years afterward a Court lady was so tactless as 
to commend NelFs wit and beauty in the presence of her 
bitter rival, the Duchess of Portsmouth. Nell's friend 
spoke of her skill at diverting the King with her repartee 
and boasted that she made a very fine appearance, that she 
seemed to be as much a lady of quality as anybody. "Yes, 
madam," said the duchess drily, "but anybody may know 
she has been an orange wench by her swearing." 

Nell studied other subjects, some with less success. She 
was ambitious, and there before her eyes daily \\ ere the 
actresses of the company— Mrs. Corey, Mrs. Eastland, Peg 
Hughes, Mary Knepp, Anne Marshall, and Susanna Up- 
hill—young women of little education or training and only 
slightly better backgrounds than Nell's. They wore splen- 
did clothes; they were paid what seemed to her fabulous 
sums (twenty to fifty shillings a week— worth about as 
many dollars today) ; and in the greenroom when the play 
was done they were praised, pawed, and petted by elegant 
gentlemen who took them out to dinner and sometimes 
home to bed. Who would not want to be an actress? 

If she had not earlier done so, Nell had to learn to read 
and write now that she was almost an actress. The mem- 
bers of a stock company were required to read and memo- 
rize dozens of roles in the course of a season; skill at 
reading was essential. Writing was another matter. Rose 
wrote a good plain hand, but Nell never really learned to 

30 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

write. She signed all documents with a childish "E.G.", so 
painfully formed as to show a learning process barely- 

Nell did much better with lessons in singing, speaking, 
and dancing. She had willing teachers. The need for ac- 
tresses was so great that the chief men of the King's Com- 
pany—Charles Hart, Edward Kynaston, Michael Mohun, 
and John Lacy— were constantly on the lookout for likely 
young wenches. They themselves were experienced actors 
who had all been on the stage in some capacity or other 
before the closing of the theatres. Hart and Kynaston had 
played female roles and could teach an aspiring orange- 
girl how to imitate a fine lady on the stage. Mohun was 
not only an excellent actor but a good singer. Lacy had 
been a dancing master at one time and now served the the- 
atre in a triple capacity: as actor, dancer, and choreog- 
rapher. Nell was an apt pupil; she learned to dance the 
vigorous jigs which so delighted the audiences, the bransles 
and corantos commonly performed "by the entire com- 
pany" to conclude a comedy, and in time she became 
Lacy's partner in comic dances and spectacles. 

She studied also the ways of the world. At fourteen a 
girl of the slums was wise beyond her years and cynical 
about such mere abstractions as truth, honor, and virtue. 
An orange-girl was in daily contact with a godless lot of 
men, on stage and in the audience. From their stations in 
the pit the orange-girls saw the by-play between the King 
and his mistress, Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine, 
and watched the Court nobles making love to so-called 
Maids of Honor while the play went on unheeded. They 
carried love-notes from one member of the audience to 

From Barmaid to Actress 31 

another, looked on as the vizard-masks made assignations 
with their victims, and responded daily to dozens of coarse 
suggestions from their customers. They saw that the way 
to rise in the world was not by merit and hard work but 
by friends, flattery, and compliance. One played the game 
according to the rules. 

It would not be at all surprising, then, if Nell, following 
a time-honored procedure, eased her way to the stage by 
sleeping with some man of influence— in short, no player 
till first she was a whore, in this case to the leading actor, 
Charles Hart, a tall, handsome fellow in his late thirties. 
But whether she was "eased of her virginity" by Hart be- 
fore she came upon the stage or after (or whether, indeed, 
she had not lost that dubious article to some earlier lover) 
is of no particular consequence. Certainly Hart was one of 
her "keepers," if not the first, and the identity of Christian 
names among her known lovers— Charles Hart, Charles, 
Lord Buckhurst, and Charles II— later gave her the cue for 
one of her broadest jokes: she called the King her "Charles 
the Third!" 

In November, 1664, Thomas Killigrew was preparing 
one of his own rambling, long-winded plays, Thoviaso, or 
The Wanderer J for production. (If it ever appeared, no 
one bothered to record the fact.) Accidentally prophetic, 
he wrote the name "Nelly" in the list of actors after the bit 
part of "Paulina, a courtesan of the first rank." This is the 
earliest reference to Nell as a member of the King's Com- 
pany. Now, nearly fifteen years old, the little barmaid, 
itinerant vendor, and orange-girl was entitled to call her- 
self by the proud title "His Majesty's Servant." 


Majesty ^s 


I 6 6 4 - I 6 6 J 



OT LONG AF'l ER Nell became a neophyte ac- 
tress she moved to lodgings in Drury Lane, in a house next 
door to the Cock and Pye Tavern, opposite Wych Street. 
There on a fine May-day a couple of years later Pepys saw 
her standing at her door— "a mighty pretty creature in her 
smock sleeves and bodice"— watching the troops of flow- 
er-decked milk-maids dancing through the streets with a 
fiddler before them. Her reason for moving to Drury 
Lane was obvious: it was just a step around the corner to 
the Russell Street entrance of the King's Theatre. All her 
colleagues lived as close to the theatre as they could. Since 
the company presented as many as two or even three plays 
in a single week, the players practically lived in the the- 
atre, spending the mornings rehearsing new plays (or old 
plays not acted for some time) and the afternoons from 
three to five or later acting in the current production. 
Their evenings they devoted to more ignoble activities, 
following, it must be admitted, the custom of the time. 

Partly in reaction against Puritan repression, partly in 
obedience to their natural bent, a good many Restoration 
Londoners went to excesses of drunkenness and lechery, 
and the actors were not the least of the sinners. The great 
mass of the English people were sober and God-fearing; 
the wastrels and rakes were little more numerous in pro- 
portion to the total population than at any other period, 


36 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

but because of lax law enforcement they were more open 
in their wickedness. When young gentlemen, heated by 
wine, ran riot in the streets at night, broke windows, beat 
up harmless pedestrians, and skirmished with the watch, 
there were many indignant outcries but few punishments. 
The King himself was given to hard drinking, and the 
popularity of the habit among his subjects is suggested by 
the words of a popular song: 

Good store of good claret supplies everything, 
And the man that is drunk is as great as a king. 

The widespread addiction to lechery could be illus- 
trated by hundreds of examples, from Pepys and his hole- 
in-a-corner affairs with servant girls and workmen's wives 
to the King's mistresses, flaunted in public to the rage of 
respectable people. A locksmith of Nantwich, convinced 
that the sin of "keeping" was becoming a national diver- 
sion, proposed that all unmarried females above twelve 
years of age should wear padlocks until they were married, 
and that he himself should be "the maker and fixer of the 
same." The Covent Garden slums which produced Nell 
Gwyn would have thought his notion of the age of con- 
sent a bit naive, and the gentry, who guarded their own 
daughters— and sometimes their wives, too— would have 
been incensed. But the gentry considered other men's 
wives and daughters fair game— especially milk-maids, 
servant girls, shopkeepers' wives, and actresses. 

In the pyramidal class system of Restoration England, 
with the broad base and most of the core of the pyramid 
composed of honest, industrious artisans, farmers, and 
"citizens" (tradesmen and merchants), the apex was a 

His Majesty's Servants 37 

small, tightly-knit society ("the Town" as opposed to 
"the City") which played the sedulous ape to King and 
Court in speech, dress, manners, and morals. Love and 
gaming were the two principal pastimes in the rambling 
galleries and chambers of Whitehall; consequently both 
diversions, but particularly love, were indulged in by the 
gentlemen of "the Town." "Keeping" became so much a 
matter of fashion that Francis North, Lord Guildford, a 
sober lawyer and courtier, was seriously urged to "keep a 
whore," because his failure to do so made him "ill looked 
upon at Court." By the same token many an amorous lady 
ventured her person and reputation with a gallant, and the 
husband who resented his wife's lewd conduct was con- 
sidered a fool and a spoil-sport. When the Earl of Chester- 
field, fearing an intrigue between his wife and the Duke of 
York, dragged the reluctant lady off to his country estate, 
the young blades of the Court— such cuckold-makers as 
Lord Buckhurst, Sir Charles Sedley, the Earl of Rochester, 
and George Etherege— diverted everybody with witty bal- 
lads at his expense. 

Many of the Court intrigues shifted so rapidly that even 
the best informed gossips could hardly keep track of 
them. King Charles, a patient man, was more dogged in 
pursuit and more constant than most in his keeping; al- 
though his affections might shift, he rarely discarded a 
mistress, preferring to add to his hand. In 1664, while 
Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine, was his semi-official be- 
loved, he was avidly chasing Mrs. Frances Stuart, the 
seventeen-year-old daughter of the Honorable Walter 
Stuart and one of the Queen's Maids of Honor. ("Mrs.", 
the common abbreviation of "Mistress," was the title oriven 

38 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

both married and unmarried women. A "miss" was either 
a very young girl or a kept woman.) 

Frances Stuart was vain, empty-headed, and beautiful— 
so vain that on the least encouragement she would show 
her legs above the knee; so empty-headed that she loved 
childish romps and games, and courtiers amused her by 
building castles of cards; so beautiful that John Rotier, the 
famous engraver, used her as his model for Britannia on 
the King's new copper coins. She was tall, slender, grace- 
ful, and fair-haired, with large eyes and a "little Roman 
nose." For a while she put Lady Castlemaine's own excel- 
lent nose quite out of joint. 

Amorous King Charles was so obsessed that whenever 
possible he would get Frances into a corner and "be with 
her half an hour together, kissing her to the observation of 
all the world." She accepted his gifts, permitted him m.any 
liberties with her person— and refused to sleep with him. 
One day he lost his temper and burst out with the hope 
that he might live to see her "ugly and willing." He even 
wrote her a love song which began, 

I pass all my hours in a shady old grove, 
But I live not the day when I see not my love; 
I survey every walk now my Phillis is gone, 
And I sigh when I think we were there all alone; 

O then, *tis O then, that I think there's no hell 

Like loving, like loving too well. 

One half the Court was convinced that Frances was al- 
ready the King's mistress; the other half was equally cer- 
tain that she soon would be. Both halves were wrong. To 
Frances Stuart goes a unique honor: her virtue was proof 

His Majesty'' s Servants 39 

against the examples of her colleagues, the arguments of 
politicians who tried to "get" her for the King, and all the 
pleas, persuasions, and blandishments of her royal lover. 
She wanted a wedding ring. 

King Charles set the standard of licentious conduct, and 
his servants, at Whitehall and in the theatres, did their best 
to better his instructions. To be sure, in the early days of 
the Restoration there were many honest and sober (but 
dull) men among the King's Cupbearers, Pages, Grooms 
and Gentlemen of the Bedchamber— the gentry and nobil- 
ity who took turns waiting and sleeping in the royal ante- 
chamber, helping their master to dress and undress, serv- 
ing him at table, and running errands. But as the years 
wore on the King surrounded himself more and more with 
men who also loved wine, wit, music, plays, poetry, and 
prostitutes. There were decent women at Court, too- 
even a few Maids of Honor who kept their precarious 
chastity— but many of the Queen's Ladies-in- Waiting had 
sold their virtue for their social preferment. 

In a small way the theatres mirrored Whitehall. Some 
of the actors of the King's Company, Mohun and Lacy, 
for example, were men of dignity and moderation, who 
kept their sins well hidden. Thomas Bettcrton, leader of 
the Duke's Company, was an honorable gentleman, hap- 
pily married and temperate in all his ways. But most of the 
actors were bawdy, dissolute fellows, much given to the 
obvious sins of drunkenness and lechery. Whatever their 
origins, they asserted their gentility and their right to wear 
swords off-stage, but they were sketchily educated, lack- 
ing in morals, and so prodigal that had they not been, as 
His Majesty's servants, immune to arrest for debt, tliev 

40 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

would have spent the best part of their lives in jail. As for 
their lechery, Thomas Killigrew once told Pepys that he 
was obliged "to keep a woman on purpose at 20s. a week 
to satisfy 8 or 10 of the young men of his house, whom 
till he did so he could never keep to their business, and 
now he do." 

The women of the companies were little better than 
the men. They were not much given to wine, but with a 
few exceptions— such as Mrs. Betterton and Mrs. Shadwell 
at the Duke's House— they were notoriously short on vir- 
tue. However, it must be pleaded that they all worked 
hard for small pay, augmented only now and then by the 
profits from a benefit performance, or "women's day"; 
they had heavy expenses for the finery used on the stage, 
and they were constantly tempted by amorous gentry with 
well-filled purses. Following the style set by the King- 
one of whose earlier conquests was Elizabeth Weaver of 
the King's Company— dozens of titled rakes sought to in- 
crease their prestige by Haisons with actresses. It was the 
thing to do. Among the many successful gentlemen in the 
first decade of the Restoration were Prince Rupert, 
the Duke of Richmond, the Earls of Oxford and Roches- 
ter, Lord Buckhurst, Sir Charles Sedley, and Sir Robert 
Howard, to name only the well known. Attacked by such 
glittering men of property, many ladies of the theatre 
surrendered and became ladies of pleasure in their spare 
time or left the stage for lodgings in a fine quarter of the 

In the winter of 1664-65 Nell was a tyro preparing for 
the competition on stage and in the greenroom. The three 
actor-managers. Hart, Mohun, and Lacy, kept her at bit 

His Majesty's Servants 41 

parts and taught her the craft. She was not given a really 
good role until the following spring. 

First of all, Nell had to get acquainted with the physical 
properties of the stage— she already knew the theatre. The 
outer platform of the stage extended into the pit, bringing 
the actors in close contact with the audience. Nell learned 
the knack of delivering an "aside" or a prologue, leaning 
forward over the lamps and taking the pit into her confi- 
dence. At the rear of the platform was the wide proscenium 
arch of the inner stage; scenes were changed by separating 
or bringing together painted flats which slid in grooves 
across the inner stage and met in the middle. Nell learned 
that actors "discovered" on the inner stage when flats were 
opened came forward to deliver their Hnes, and that those 
who "died" usually did so well within the arch so that at 
the end of the scene the flats could be closed in front of 
their bodies, with less work for the "bearers." On each side 
of the arch were three stage doors; above them were win- 
dows with balconies, used when characters were to appear 
"aloft." It was quite a trick to scramble down from one 
of these, fly around backstage to the proper door, and 
come on in time for a cue without being breathless. In fact, 
the whole business of acting was hard labor: the actors 
moved briskly on and off the stage and were on their feet 
practically all the time, unless they were flat on their backs 
on the floor, pretending to be dead. 

Nell acquired a wardrobe and learned to wear fashion- 
able clothes. The actors made few attempts at historical 
truth in scenes and costumes; richness and show ^^'ere all 
they sought. Hamlet wandered through Denmark clad in 
Restoration garb— often a hand-me-down suit from a rich 

42 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

patron— flat-crowned, broad-brimmed hat sailing atop a 
monstrous periwig, lace-trimmed shirt of holland linen, 
close fitting long vest, loose surcoat reaching to the knees, 
full breeches, silk or worsted stockings, and shoes with 
ribbon bows. Ophelia was entrancing in a rich-colored 
French gown a la mode opened in front to display under- 
dress, flowered petticoats, and a good deal of Ophelia her- 
self—especially her breasts and shoulders rising from the 
lace-edged top of the linen smock or chemise. Sometimes 
this territory was covered by a lace collar or linen hand- 
kerchief. The company provided basic costumes for cer- 
tain special productions, but even then the actors provided 
their own swords, feathers, gloves, and shoes. Nell had to 
have not only dresses and petticoats but collars, necker- 
chiefs, gloves, fans, silk stockings, garters, and shoes 
trimmed with rosettes and ribbons. She learned to wear 
these things with the grace of a fine lady, to hold her body 
erect, walk with dainty steps, curtsy, wield her fan, and 
toss her curls. 

The craft of the comedian was quickly mastered. Nell 
had only to be her own gay, giddy self, and to pick up a 
few tricks: the pouting lower lip and languishing cast of 
sleepy eyes denoting passion; the quick gesture or change 
of tone which emphasized the double meaning in a bawdy 
line; and the half -reluctant, half -inviting management of 
her body in scenes when an actor tried to lay hands on her. 
For the rest she made the most of her physical charms and 
to please the men in the front row danced a jig and, by 
whirling petticoats, gave them glimpses of "a neat silk leg 
and pair of holland thighs." 

Although Nell was a natural comedian, the small re- 

His Majesty^ s Servants 43 

sources of the company could support no narrow special- 
ists. She must be at least competent in serious parts. Trag- 
edies were acted in a formal, highly artificial style. The 
players strutted, bellowed, and intoned their lines of verse, 
contorting their bodies in stylized gestures. They were 
forever dropping to their knees, getting up, flinging them- 
selves into somebody's arms (or "on his neck"), falling 
back in alarm with faces averted, clapping hands to heart 
or head, all according to rule. Dislike it as she might, Nell 
had to become a tragedian. Among other skills she learned 
how to die— in simulated agony as the result of drinking a 
"bowl" of poison, or more commonly by the bloodier 
way of sword or dagger, the sword blunted and taken be- 
tween arm and side, the dagger a collapsible fake, the 
blood real (fresh sheep's-blood) and appHed to arm, neck, 
or breast by a sponge tied in the palm of the victim's hand. 
There was danger even in such mimic murder. Once Eliz- 
abeth Barry wielded a trick dagger so viciously in a scene 
with Anne Boutel that "though the point of the dagger 
was blunted, it made its way through Mrs. Boutel's stays 
and entered about a quarter of an inch into the flesh." 

At fifteen Nell was small and slender but well rounded. 
She wore her bright chestnut hair in clusters of curls on 
each side of her head. Her face was almost heart-shaped, 
with a broad forehead, full cheeks, and a small, rounded 
chin. Her wide, full-lipped mouth curled upward at the 
corners, and her cheeks dimpled when she smiled. Her 
nose was a bit on the blunt side, if not quite turned up, and 
her eyes were hazel. She had "a foot the least of anv ^^'oman 
in England, which the merry Adonarch is said often to 
contemplate with great pleasure, in presence of his cour- 

44 ^^11 Givyn: Royal Mistress 

tiers"— an innocent cause of merriment. Because of her 
slenderness and gamin ways she was often called on to 
play the role of a woman disguised as a man and submit 
her well-turned legs to the critical inspection of the pit. 

Typical of the small roles she played that winter was a 
maid's part in Sir William Killigrew's The Siege of Urbiriy 
produced early in 1665, a wild melodrama, full of plots, 
disguises, duels, battles, evil villains, and super-noble 
heroes. The heroine was tall, handsome Anne Marshall as 
Celestina, a lovelorn maiden who, to avoid a forced mar- 
riage, donned a man's periwig, coat, breeches, and sword 
and sallied forth to win battles and hearts. As Melina, her 
maid and confidant, likewise breeched and periwigged, 
Nell had a very thin part, with little to do but listen to her 
melancholy mistress, second her in her swashbuckling 
career as an epicene soldier, and show off her own legs. 
Neither of the young actresses could handle a sword. A 
stage direction explicitly ordered that "Florio[Anne] and 
Pedro [Nell] must not fight on the stage through the whole 
play." Sir William's dialogue was dreadfully dull. 

Nevertheless Nell acquitted herself so well in this and 
in other, unrecorded, performances that in the next new 
play produced by the company, John Dryden's The In- 
dian Emperor (March, 1665), she won the ingenue role 
of Cydaria, the emperor's innocent daughter. This rhymed 
heroic play, a sequel to The Indian Queen by Dryden and 
Sir Robert Howard, tells the story of the conquest of 
Mexico by stout Cortez (Charles Hart), who is conquered 
by Cydaria in turn. There are exciting complications, of 
course. For example, Montezuma (Mohun), a widower, 
sighs for wicked Almeria (Anne Marshall), who hates 

His Majesty's Servants 45 

him and loves Cortez; Montezuma's two sons vie for the 
love of Almeria's sister, and Almeria's brother is contracted 
to Cydaria! There are the usual duels and battles, debates 
over love and honor, and scenes of lust and torture, but 
after much bloodshed all ends with love triumphant and 
Cydaria and Cortez united. 

Dryden scored a great success with the play, and Nell 
scored a little one. 

Picture the King's Theatre on an afternoon in early 
spring. It is the first performance of a play by a popular 
dramatist. Prices are doubled, but the theatre is crowded, 
and the elite of society are present. In a side-box on the 
right is the King, his sardonic face shadowed by his heavy 
black periwig, his eyes intent on Frances Stuart, beautiful 
in a red velvet gown. At his side is drab little Queen Cath- 
erine, showing her crooked teeth in a forced smile, and in 
the next box is Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine, looking out 
of sorts and sallow in white satin. Across the theatre sits long- 
faced James, Duke of York, the King's younger brother 
and heir-presumptive to the throne; with him is his plump 
duchess, Anne, daughter of Chancellor Clarendon. 

In the pit Dryden's witty friends have gathered. There 
is the florid Duke of Buckingham, more interested in flirt- 
ing with Anna-Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury, than in 
watching the play. There is moon-faced Lord Buckhurst 
who last winter while at sea with the fleet wrote the latest 
amusing song: 

To all you ladies now at land 

We men at sea indite, 
But first would have you understand 

How hard it is to write. . . 

46 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

Our paper, pen and ink, and we 
Roll up and down our ships at sea— 
With a fal, la, la, la, la! 

There are Henry Killigrew; John Wilmot, the young 
Earl of Rochester, with an angelic face and devilish morals; 
stout Henry Savile, Groom to the Duke of York; fair 
George Etherege, a budding playwright; and little Sir 
Charles Sedley, still famous for an episode with Buckhurst 
and Sir Thomas Ogle at the Cock Tavern when, in 
drunken good humor, he showed himself nearly naked on 
a balcony, preached a mock sermon, and threw bottles 
("pist in") at the people of Covent Garden, ''contra pacem 
and to the scandal of the government." The polite world is 
present en masse. 

Dressed in a flowered pink gown, with a profusion of 
ribbons and lace and with plumes in her hair to suggest the 
barbaric princess, Nell must compete with the leading lady, 
Anne Marshall, for the attention of this sophisticated audi- 
ence. We see her in her encounters with Cortez portraying 
the growth of adolescent love— breast heaving with emo- 
tion, hands moving in formal gestures. We watch her in a 
love-versus-honor debate with Cortez, and some cynic in 
the pit, knowing of the affair between Hart and Nelly, 
snickers at the incongruity. She is jealous of her rival, 
Almeria, and registers anger; she detests her approved 
suitor and registers scorn. Near the end of the play she 
shrinks in fear from the furious dagger-wielding Almeria 
and cries pitifully: 

Can you be so hard-hearted to destroy 
My ripening hopes that are so near to joy? 

His Majesty^ s Servants 47 

I just approach to all I would possess; 

Death only stands 'twixt me and happiness! 

Alas, she pleads in vain. The dagger flashes. Nell shrieks 
and staggers back, clutching at her bare arm and squeezing 
the bloody sponge tied to the inside of her middle finger. 
Cortez rescues her before further damage can be done; 
Almeria stabs herself and, dying, joins the lovers' hands 
and gives her blessing on their union. The scene closes on 
Almeria's prone body as the lovers go off-stage arm in 
arm, an actor dressed as Mercury comes on to deliver the 
epilogue, and the audience applauds. 

The applause, of course, was chiefly for the brilliant 
acting of Anne Marshall and Charles Hart, but Nell had 
some share of it. She was adequate, if not sensational, and 
her personal charms made up in good measure for her lack 
of skill. The author of "A Panegyric" wrote: 

Fate now for her did its whole force engage, 
And from the pit she's mounted to the stage. 
There, in full lustre did her glories shine, 
And, long eclipsed, spread forth their light divine. 

Nevertheless, her rise to fame was rapid if not meteoric. 
People began to take notice of her and to speak of her as 
"Nelly." Even Pepys, who had not seen The Indian Em- 
peror, remarked her one day in April when she went on a 
busman's holiday to the rival theatre. He wrote in his 
diary, "All the pleasure of the play was, the King and my 
Lady Castlemaine w^ere there; and pretty, w^itty Nell, at 
the King's House, and the younger Marshall [Rebecca] 
sat next us, which pleased me mightily."* 

Unfortunately Nell's shining glories were destined for 

48 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

a new and lengthy eclipse. In the winter of 1664-65 the 
commercial rivalry between England and Holland was 
coming to a head. The nation of shopkeepers had reached 
the decision that the world's trade was too small to be 
shared with the Dutch, and Samuel Pepys, Clerk of the 
Acts in the Navy Office, was frantically busy getting the 
fleet ready for sea. War was formally declared in March, 
1665, and throughout April and May the audiences at the 
theatres grew daily thinner as patriotic young gentlemen 
volunteered for naval service and timorous old gentlemen 
took their families to their inland estates. 

Moreover, an evil greater than war was creeping over 
London with ominous speed. Bubonic plague, the dreaded 
scourge of Europe, was returning in epidemic proportions 
after lying almost dormant in England for sixteen years. 
Beginning in the rat and flea infested areas about the docks, 
it moved outward in waves toward the suburbs. Although 
preferring those who lived in filth and poverty, the disease 
played no favorites and struck alike at young and old, 
great and small. Men walking in the streets staggered and 
fell, stricken by dizziness and blinding headaches. When 
the dreaded swellings, or buboes, appeared in groin or arm- 
pit, many victims died of sheer fright. Whole families, 
with one member ill, were left to die in locked and guarded 
houses. There was no cure, no palliative drug, no help save 
flight from those regions where house after house was 
chalked with a red cross and the words "Lord have mercy 
upon us." 

By early May the scarlet tide was washing near Drury 
Lane, and the fearful were fleeing from Covent Garden. 
On June 5 the theatres were closed by royal order and 

His Majesty's Servants 49 

were destined to remain closed for the next eighteen 
months. The players were thrown upon their own re- 
sources. Some had savings, or other trades to which they 
could turn, and could ride out the storm in a village or 
town remote from plague-stricken London. Some could 
do no more than follow the Court as it fled from London 
to Hampton Court, then to Salisbury, and finally to Ox- 
ford. (After all, they were the King's servants, and King 
and Court were their best patrons and customers.) Some 
few stayed in London with other courageous souls. What 
Nell Gwyn did, no one knows. There are no records. 


Witty Neir 

I 6 6 J - I 6 6 J 



HILE GREAT EVENTS chased each other 
across the national stage, mere actors were small game and 
their doings went unrecorded. On June 3, 1665, the Battle 
of Southwold Bay resulted in an English victory, but both 
fleets were so badly battered that for the rest of the summer 
they remained in their home ports, licking their wounds. 
In London the numbers of the plague-stricken mounted 
daily; the rich fled to faraway havens and the poor moved 
out into the open fields for safety. On September 20, a 
total of 7,165 deaths was reported for the preceding week. 
"Lord!" wrote Pepys, "What a sad time it is to see no 
boats upon the river; and grass grows all up and down 
Whitehall Court, and nobody but poor wretches in the 

The poor wretches— including Mr. Pepys— walked care- 
fully, avoiding contacts with each other and even with 
buildings; the infection was everywhere. In their ears was 
the endless tolling of church bells and a constant low 
moaning compounded of the groans and wailings of the 
stricken. The swellings which were the fatal symptom of 
the plague were so exquisitely painful that the most stoic 
could not restrain their screams. Some victims shot them- 
selves, some threw themselves from high windows, some 
ran naked through the streets to the river and plunged in. 

Funerals were forbidden. By night bellmen \\'ent 


54 ^^l^ Givyn: Royal Mistress 

through the streets, ringing their bells and calling, "Bring 
out your dead." Behind them came "dead-carts" into which 
the corpses were thrown, some wrapped decently in linen 
winding sheets, many stark naked, with stiff, angular limbs. 
The accumulated dead of a night were dumped into huge 
pits which served as communal graves, and over the decay- 
ing flesh soil was spread so thinly that the mounds were 
black with crows and ravens except when the gravediggers 
were at work near by. 

Over the whole city hung a miasmic stench, strongest in 
the suburb slums where the nameless poor died in swarms. 
In all this horror devoted men continued to work— city 
magistrates, officers of the national administration, even a 
rare courtier or two, and many physicians. But the best the 
doctors could offer was a prophylactic of sage, rue, butter- 
cup-root, angelica-root, snake-root, and saffron, infused 
in Malaga wine. Despite this witches' brew, by the end 
of the year nearly 70,000 Londoners had perished. "The 
plague defied all medicines," wrote Defoe, "the very physi- 
cians were seized with it, with their preservatives in their 
mouths; and men went about prescribing to others and 
telling them what to do, till the tokens were upon them 
and they dropped down dead, destroyed by that very 
enemy they directed others to oppose." 

With the frosts of winter the weekly bills of mortality 
declined. Late in January, 1666, the King ventured back 
to Hampton Court and thence to Whitehall. His family and 
servants, who had been housed in the college halls at Ox- 
ford, followed him more timidly during the next two 
months. The dons were glad to see the last of the rude 
courtiers who were so careless of decorum that they used 

''Fretty, Witty Neir 55 

the fireplaces as privies. Lady Castlemaine had scandalously 
given birth to one of the King's bastards (her third) in the 
lodgings of a fellow of Merton College. 

By March the numbers of deaths per week had fallen 
from the thousands into the low hundreds. Even in the 
midst of war and pestilence men began to hope for the old 
pleasant ways again. On March 19 Pepys visited the King's 
Theatre which was "all in dirt, they being altering of the 
stage to make it wider. But God knows when they will 
begin to act again." The starving players could echo his 
longing. They too were drifting back to town, but, except 
for rare performances at Court, there was no work for 
them until the following winter. In the obscurity hiding 
Nell there is only one rift: a royal warrant for granting 
liveries to actors, dated June 30, 1666, ordered that the 
usual four yards of bastard scarlet cloth and one quarter 
of a yard of velvet be delivered to each of eleven "women 
comedians in His Majesty's Theatre," among them "Ellen 
Gwyn." At least Nell was still a member of the company. 
She could spend her days looking at her livery, a scarlet 
cloak with a wide collar of crimson velvet. 

The plague continued during the spring, although with 
diminishing fury; and the fleets prepared again for war. 
The Four Days Battle of the Channel (June 1-5) ended 
with terrible losses on both sides. Summer passed amid 
minor battles and threats of invasion by the Dutch. Slowly 
the plague faded away, but there was little heart for enter- 
tainment in the stricken city. Even the frivolous courtiers 
thought it "unseemly for them to be found playing and 
gaming as they used to be" and amused themselves inno- 
cently by lying long in bed. 

^6 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

Late in August things looked more hopeful, although 
the times were still hard for merchants, traders, actors, and 
courtiers. There had been some small successes at sea; the 
war seemed about to wear itself out; and the plague toll 
was down to three or four deaths a day. Amusement- 
hungry Londoners began to go to the Bear Garden on the 
Bankside to enjoy the "rude and nasty pleasure" of bull- 
baiting, or to Moorfields to see puppet shows. There were 
even rumors that the theatres were about to reopen. 

But the gods had not finished with London. August was 
hot and tinder-dry; the old houses and shops in the City 
cracked in the sun, and the pitch melted in their seams. 
Early on Sunday morning, September 2, a fire started in a 
baker's shop in Pudding Lane, Fish Street, not far from the 
foot of London Bridge. It was out of hand almost at once. 
Fanned by a fresh gale from the east, by daybreak it had 
consumed over three hundred houses and was spreading 
westward at a gallop, scorning the efforts of amateur fire- 
men with their pickaxes, leather buckets, and primitive 
engines. When it came to the region between Thames 
Street and the river— crowded by warehouses filled with 
tar, oil, tallow, and spirits— the fire leaped into insane ac- 
tivity. That night thousands of watchers from the Bankside 
across the river saw theXity "in a most horrid, malicious, 
bloody flame," with "one entire arch of fire" on both sides 
of the approach to London Bridge, "and in a bow up the 
hill for an arch of above a mile long." John Evelyn, an 
amateur scientist, thought that the heat, "with a long set 
of fair and warm weather, had even ignited the air, and 
prepared the materials to conceive the fire, which de- 
voured, after an incredible manner, houses, furniture, and 

"Pretty, Witty Neir 57 

everything." To distracted Londoners it seemed indeed 
that the Angel of God had come to scorch the earth with 

On Monday, while tired men labored vainly, pulling 
down houses in the westward path of the flames— which 
leaped contemptuously across the gaps— panic-stricken citi- 
zens loaded their goods on drays, carts, lighters, and boats 
for a universal exodus. The area of combustion grew 
steadily, creeping north and east, too, devouring Lombard 
Street, the Poultry, Cornhill, and the Royal Exchange, 
plus some forty churches. That night "all the sky w^as of a 
fiery aspect, like the top of a burning oven, and the Hght 
seen above forty miles round-about. The noise and crack- 
ing and thunder of the impetuous flames, the shrieking of 
women and children, the hurry of people, the fall of 
towers, houses, and churches, was like a hideous storm, 
and the air all about was so hot and inflamed that at the 
last one was not able to approach it." To add to the gen- 
eral consternation, rumors flew that the fire had been set 
by the French, and all the ancient English fears of Papist 
plots and foreign invasions came back with redoubled 

Tuesday was the worst day. The fire engulfed St. Paul's 
Cathedral; the lead roof melted and poured like lava into 
the streets, and in the intense heat the very stones of the 
walls exploded and "flew hke grenados." The Duke of 
York and his soldiers labored all around the perimeter of 
the area, blowing up houses with gunpowder, a device 
which stopped the flames toward the east just short of the 
Tower, but had little effect to^^'ard the \\xst. But on 
Wednesday the wind died down; the blowing up of houses 

58 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

confined the fire more and more, and gradually it came 
under control and burned itself out. 

In four short days a third of the old City was destroyed, 
from Tower Hill on the east almost to Chancery Lane on 
the west— short of the western suburbs— and in a semicircle 
north to Moorfields. Among the thousands of buildings 
consumed were the cathedral, the guild hall, and eighty- 
four churches. For weeks the waste of blackened rubble 
smouldered and smoked, and the ground was hot to the 
soles of wayfarers' shoes. 

Although the theatres were not near the burned district 
they were still under an interdict. But after the first few 
stunned weeks, when the City had picked itself up and 
begun to rebuild, the actors fought for permission to re- 
sume playing. The bishops, who professed concern for 
pubHc health, were their chief enemies. Near the end of 
November the actors bribed the church with promises to 
give a share of their profits to the poor and were allowed 
to play. Nell Gwyn reappeared out of darkness, having 
survived plague, war, fire, and Heaven knows what else. 

Back again in her Drury Lane lodgings slie took up the 
familiar routine of the theatre. She was now nearly seven- 
teen, better developed in mind and body. Now she had her 
second chance at fame and formne. She accepted, of 
course, whatever roles were allotted her by the chief actors 
—and Charles Hart had reasons to favor her— but she could 
no longer be limited to playing maids and innocent young 
girls. There were comic parts to be cast, and Nell had 

. . . wit and sense, 
Beauty, and such a stock of impudence 

''Pretty, Witty Neir 59 

that she could not be denied. Three months after the 
King's Theatre opened she was a star. 

Her first known role in the new season was in a revival 
of James Howard's The English Monsieur, produced early 
in December. She had the female lead as Lady Wealthy, 
a rich young widow pursued by Welbred, a fortune hunter 
(Charles Hart), to whom she surrendered at last. Her part 
was not very long— most of the play was devoted to the 
antics of a group of bumpkins, fools, and fops— but she 
made the most of it, teasing, insulting, and railing at her 
blunt wooer with gusto. The comedy itself was rather a 
poor thing, but by the sparkle and snap of their delivery 
the actors made their lines sound very clever. The net re- 
sult was, as Pepys put it, "very witty and pleasant." All the 
women did well, he added, "but above all, little Nelly." 
Nell had a good start on the road to fame. 

Late in January, 1667, she played the important role of 
Celia in a revival of Fletcher's The Humorous Lieutenant. 
As the heroine of this bawdy comedy about the efforts of 
a king to seduce his son's low-born sweetheart, Nell had a 
role rich in opportunities to display her comic style. She 
insulted the bawds who brought her to court and dressed 
her in rich garments; fenced successfully with the lecher- 
ous king; and ridiculed her high-minded lover. Prince 
Demetrius (Charles Hart), who was convinced of her in- 
iquity. The play ended happily when Demetrius, after a 
period of iambic agony, learned that Celia had been chased 
and not caught, and that she was really a virtuous princess 
in disguise. Joyfully he took her to his honorable bosom. 

On January 2 3 Pepys took his wife and her maid to see 
the play. Afterwards his friend, Nell's colleague Alarv 

6o Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

Knepp, took him and his family backstage "and brought 
to us Nelly, a most pretty woman, who acted the great 
part of Celia today very fine, and did it pretty well. I kissed 
her and so did my wife, and a mighty pretty soul she is." 
This was Pepys' first formal meeting with Nell. Following 
the easy custom of the day, when he was introduced he 
"saluted" her upon the lips— no mere peck but a hearty 
buss. He left the theatre much pleased by his trip back- 
stage, "and specially kissing of Nell." 

Two weeks later Nell had another fling at broad comic 
action in Fletcher's The Chances, altered by George Vil- 
Hers, Duke of Buckingham. Playing the Second Constantia, 
a prostitute (not to be confused with the romantic heroine, 
a lost lady also named Constantia) , she worked her wanton 
wiles on eager Don John (Charles Hart again), bringing 
him to such a pitch that he could hardly contain himself. 
The following dialogue was famous for its suggestive ac- 
tion; years later it was still remembered as the scene in 
which Don John was "pulling down" his breeches. 

When Don John meets the Second Constantia she is 
wearing a mask. 

Don John. Come, pray unmask. 

Constantia. Then turn away your face; for I'm resolved 

you shall not see a bit of mine till I have set it in order, 

and then— 
John. What? 
Const. I'll strike you dead. 
John. [To the audience]. A mettled whore, I warrant her. 

Come, if she be now but young and have but a nose on 

her face, she'll be as good as her word. I'm e'en panting 

for breath already. 

'Tretty, Witty Neir 6i 

Const. Now stand your ground if you dare. [John looks 

at her and starts back in amazement] . 
John. [Aside]. By this light, a rare creature! Ten thousand 

times handsomer than her we seek for! This can be sure 

no common one. Pray heaven she be a whore! 
Const. Well sir, what say ye now? [A passionate look]. 
John. Nothing. I'm so amazed I am not able to speak. 

[Aside]. Vd best fall to presently, though it be in the 

street, for fear of losing time.— Prithee, my dear, sweet 

creature, go with me into that corner that thou and I 

may talk a little in private. 
Const. No sir, no private dealing, I beseech you. 
John. [Aside] . 'Sheart, what shall I do? I'm out of my wits 

for her.— Hark ye, my dear soul, canst thou love me? 
Const. [An inviting look]. If I could, what then? 
John. Why, you know what then, and then should I be 

the happiest man alive. 
Const. Ay, so you all say till you have your desires, and 

then you leave us. 
John. But, my dear heart, I am not made like other men. 

I can never love heartily till I have— 
Const. Got their maidenheads. But suppose now I should 

be no maid! 
John. Prithee, suppose me nothing, but let me try— 

[He begins to undress]. 
Const. Nay, good sir, hold! 

The comedy ended with the romantic lovers— Don Fred- 
erick and the First Constantia— planning a wedding, and 
the sophisticated couple eagerly preparing for a bedding. 
At the close Nell danced a jig, and when the applause died 
down the Epilogue played smartly on her growing reputa- 

6i Nell Gnjoyn: Royal Mistress 

. . . the author dreads the strut and mien 

Of new-praised poets, having often seen 

Some of his fellows who have writ before, 

When Nell has danced her jig, steal to the door, 

Hear the pit clap, and with conceit of that 

Swell, and beHeve themselves the Lord knows what! 

"A good play I find it," commented Pepys, who had stolen 
an afternoon from his duties at the Navy Office, "and the 
actors most good in it." 

Now a mature and experienced actress, in three short 
months Nell had risen almost to the top of her profession. 
She was "pretty, witty Nell" to the audience, and few 
bothered with her surname. Playwrights capitalized upon 
her impudence, writing parts, prologues and epilogues to 
fit her personality. She was a public figure, but for this year 
at least, her private life was still her own. Of course in the 
intimate world of the theatre a liaison with so prominent 
an actor as Hart could not pass unnoticed, but, in the 
main, the gossip was confined to the clan. 

The players were gregarious people, and the well-be- 
haved among them lived a pleasantly Bohemian life, gather- 
ing at each others' lodgings (or at the homes of certain 
favored laymen like Pepys) for supper parties with games, 
cards, singing, dancing, or the inevitable shop-talk which 
is always the best of conversations. Sometimes such parties 
lasted with "much mirth" until past one in the morning 
—a very late hour for a generation which often went to 
bed with the sun and rose long before dawn. Sometimes 
the mirth was not very innocent— the night, for example, 
when Mary Knepp, Nell's good friend, "fell a little ill," 
went to bed, and was waked later by the Clerk of the Acts 

'Tretty, Witty Neir 63 

of the Navy who ''handled her breasts and did baiser la." 
And there were other furtive affairs. 

Like other Londoners, on hoHdays the players made 
trips to see the sights: the freak shows of Holborn, the 
oddities of Bartholomew Fair, the drills of the trained 
bands in Artillery Fields, and the annual Lord Mayor's 
pageants. In fair weather they went boating on the Thames 
or resorted to the pleasure grounds of Vauxhall, Moor- 
fields, or the Mulberry Gardens, where they strolled under 
trees and bought cheesecake, tarts, and syllabub; or they 
walked to the pond in St. James's Park to watch the King 
feed his ducks. 

On Sundays, like everybody else— good and wicked alike 
—they went to church, sometimes to both morning and 
afternoon services. They were not very religious (although 
some of them had their honest faith), and it cannot be 
said that they attended with any sort of regularity. But 
church attendance was in some sort compulsory, although 
the laws were seldom enforced except against recusants- 
Roman Catholics who obstinately refused to attend the 
Church of England services. In the City, where the 
Sabbath was kept very strictly, there was not much else 
to do on Sunday, and besides, since everybody went, even 
the King and his ribald Court, it was the proper thing to 

Nell belonged to St. Martin's Church, which w^as at- 
tended by numerous fine ladies and gentlemen who made 
a great show with their finery and new fashions. The suc- 
cessive rectors were always men of great learning and 
oratorical skill, who could hold their audiences spellbound 
with their sinewy arguments and fine passages of purple 

64 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

prose. Then there was organ music, a surpUced choir, the 
splendor of ritual and liturgy, and psalms in the metrical 
versions of Sternhold and Hopkins to be sung by the con- 
gregation. It was very satisfying, even to sinners. 

Nell's private life was rich and full; new experiences and 
new friends crowded it. The wits of the Court and town 
—some of them successful playwrights— became her friends, 
and over the course of the years several of them were in- 
fluential in determining her career. Even Lady Castlemaine 
took an interest in the Httle comedian. 

The Duke of Buckingham, leader of the wits and re- 
viser of The Chances— in which Nell had such success- 
was a gay, mercurial gentleman who, like Nell, had a 
talent for mimicry, a talent which had stood him in good 
stead throughout his chequered career. The King's con- 
stant companion and friend since their boyhood, he was 
forever getting into scrapes and forever winning his mas- 
ter's pardon by grace of his wit and ready humor. He was 
a tall, handsome man, now thirty-nine years old and show- 
ing in his puffy cheeks the effects of drink and dissipation. 
Vain, ambitious, versatile, he was "everything by starts, 
and nothing long." Above all he prided himself on his 
ability as a statesman, although he was too flighty ever to 
carry a project to a conclusion, too unprincipled to be re- 
spected, and too tactless for good diplomacy. He sought 
power and pleasure equally, wasted his enormous wealth 
on alchemists, projectors, politicians, musicians, and 
women, and would rather lose his friend than his jest. 

In the winter of 1667 he was a very busy fellow. A 
leader of the "discontented members" of Parliament (the 
earliest version of the Country, or Whig, Party, with 

'Tretty, Witty Neir 6 s 

which Nell was to be identified later) , he was working to 
oust Chancellor Clarendon and become chief minister 
himself. At the same time he had military, naval, and dip- 
lomatic ambitions; he was engaged in the manufacture of 
Venetian glass; he was producing his version of The 
Chances and working on a burlesque of heroic drama— 
and he was sleeping with Lady Shrewsbury, to the sour 
discontent not only of her husband but of Harry Killi- 
grew, her jilted lover. Late in February, Buckingham— 
truly "not one, but all mankind's epitome"— was ordered 
under arrest for treasonable activities. He had engaged an 
astrologer to cast the King's nativity! 

His mistress, Anna-Maria Brudenell, daughter of the 
Roman Catholic Earl of Cardigan, was a dark-eyed beauty 
with a voluptuous body and the grace of a panther. She 
had been married young to the middle-aged Francis Tal- 
bot, Earl of Shrewsbury (also a Roman Catholic), as his 
second wife. Anna-Maria had presented her husband with 
two sons in quick succession; then, brought to Court in 
1 66 1, she proceeded to enjoy life in a very hearty wav. 
Her reputation as a heart breaker was made in 1662 when 
one Tom Howard slew Giles Rawlins and wounded 
Henry Jermyn in a duel over her favors. A year or so later 
she was kind to "Lying Harry" Killigrew (or so, at least, 
he boasted), and Killigrew described her intimate charms 
to his friend the Duke of Buckins^ham in so hvely a man- 
ner that Buckingham's interest was aroused. He met the 
lady and promptly took her ay ay from his friend. Anna- 
Maria was amorous, sensuous, emancipated, headstrong, 
vindictive, and pious— a fit mate for the Great Duke. 

Among Nell's other witty friends at this time was the 

66 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

Earl of Rochester (aged 20), whose short life was already re- 
plete with scandal and adventure. In 1665 he abducted an 
heiress, Elizabeth Malet (worth £2,500 a year), fled with 
her in his coach as far as Uxbridge, and was captured by 
the young lady's grandfather, Francis, Lord Hawley, Cap- 
tain of the King's Guards. Rochester was sent to cool his 
heels in the Tower for a space, was released, joined the 
English fleet as a volunteer, and distinguished himself at 
the Battle of Bergen. On January 29, 1667, he married his 
faithful heiress who had persistently refused all other suit- 
ors, and became master of her broad acres in Somersetshire. 
These are the facts. The rumor mongers credited Roches- 
ter with continual drunkenness, amazing incontinence, and 
numerous cases of rape and seduction. 

His close friend, Charles, Lord Buckhurst (aged 24), 
a tall, plumpish young man with slightly protuberant eyes, 
was too indolent to be a very successful rake. However, 
he had built himself a lively reputation. In 1661 he was one 
of five young men "apprehended for killing and robbing 
of a tanner," and in 1663 he was involved in Sir Charles 
Sedley's indecent escapade at the Cock Tavern. In spite of 
his lethargy, he was an amorous fellow who had had his 
share of mistresses; his affair with one Doll Chamberlain, a 
shopkeeper in the New Exchange, was satisfactorily scan- 
dalous. Withal, Buckhurst was something of a poet and 
translator, and a promising patron of the arts. 

Among Buckhurst's proteges was the rosy-cheeked 
little poet, John Dryden, already famous for a number of 
occasional poems and three plays, two of which had been 
hits. Dry den's interest in Nell was largely professional; he 
was writing for her what proved to be her most successful 

'Tretty, Witty Neir 67 

role: Florimel, in Secret Love; or, The Maiden Queen, 
produced at the King's Theatre on March 2, 1667. 

The play itself (a two-plot aflFair, one serious and one 
comic) was a great success, fortunately for the King's 
Company which badly needed a hit (Tom Killigrew 
lamented that the daily audience was "not above half so 
much as it used to be before the late fire"). For Nell the 
production was a personal triumph. The "mad girl" Flori- 
mel who tried to capture philandering Celadon (Charles 
Hart once more) was Nell Gwyn herself transposed to the 
stage. When Celadon first met Florimel she was masked. 

Cel. Now I think on't, you must be handsome. 

Flor. What kind of beauty do you like? 

Cel. Just such a one as yours. 

Flor. What's that? 

Cel. [Peering]. Such an oval face, clear skin, hazel eyes, 
thick brown eyebrows, and hair as you have, for all the 
world. . . Then you have— let me see [Snatches at her 

Flor. I'll swear you shall not see. 

Cel. [After a quick look]. A turned up nose that gives an 
air to your face.— Oh, I find I am more and more in love 
with you!— a full nether lip, an out-mouth that makes 
mine water at it; the bottoms of your cheeks a little 
blub, and two dimples when you smile. For vour stature, 
'tis well; and for your wit, 'twas given you by one that 
knew it had been thrown away upon an ill face.— Come, 
you're handsome, there's no denying it. 

Certainly there's no denying this as a perfect descrip- 
tion of Nell. Her portraits all sho\\' the "clear skin, hazel 
eyes, thick brown eyebrows," the full lower lip, the "out" 

68 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

(or more politely, generous) mouth, the "blub" (or 
rounded) cheeks, and the dimples. And of course the one 
who gave her the wit, knowing it would have been 
"thrown away upon an ill face," was Dry den himself. 

As with appearance, so with behavior; like Nell herself 
Florimel was a complete madcap: impudent, brazen, and 
devastating in her mimicry. As the climax to the comic 
plot Nell donned the hat, periwig, coat, and breeches of a 
young gallant and came swaggering on stage to encounter 
Celadon with her two rivals for his fickle affections. Mo- 
mentarily alone, she took the audience into her confidence: 

Yonder they are, and this way they must come. If 
clothes and a bonne mine will take 'em, I shall do't.— Save 
you, Monsieur Florimel! [Looking into a pocket glass]. 
Faith, methinks you are a very jaunty fellow, poudrS et 
ajuste as well as the best of 'em. I can manage the little 
comb, set my hat, shake my garniture, toss about my 
empty noddle, walk with a courant slur, and at every step 
peck down my head. If I should be mistaken for some 
courtier now, pray where's the difference? 

Of course she baffled her rivals and got Celadon for her- 
self. The comedy closed with Nell dancing a jig in her 
masculine garb and then speaking the epilogue. Pepys was 
in ecstasies: "So great performance of a comical part was 
never, I believe, in the world before as Nell do this, both 
as a mad girl, then most and best of all when she comes in 
like a young gallant and hath the motions and carriage of a 
spark the most that ever I saw any man have. It makes me, 
I confess, admire her." He continued to admire her, seeing 
the play six times in the next two years and enjoying every 

'Tretty, Witty Neir 69 

performance. He had only one complaint: that Nell's 
dancing was not as good as that of Moll Davis at the Duke's 

The King was so pleased with Secret Love that he 
"graced it with the title of his play." On April 18 there 
was a command performance at Court with some costumes 
paid for by His Majesty, among them a man's suit of em- 
broidered purple cloth, a flannel waistcoat, "Rhinegraves," 
and "other furniture for Mrs. Gwyn— £ 10.7s." Rhinegraves, 
fashionable at the time, were loose, very full-cut breeches 
(like wide shorts or divided kilts), open at the bottom and 
likely to fly up and show an expanse of thigh when the 
wearer danced. This was not the company's first visit to 
the Hall Theatre in the palace, but it was Nell's first ap- 
pearance as the star of the show. It was a great event for 
her— the blaze of candlelight in the ornate theatre, the silks, 
satins, and gold and silver lace of the be jeweled, elegant 
audience, the King and Queen seated under a crimson 
velvet canopy on a dais raised above the pit— and impudent 
Nell from Covent Garden strutting the stage in a new 
purple suit. 

This was success and preferment, and there was more to 
come. Meanwhile Nell continued on the public stage. 
After the run of Secret Love early in March she had some- 
thing to do with a revival of Beaumont and Fletcher's The 
Knight of the Burning Pestle, which was altered to make 
it a burlesque of Dryden's play. When this was produced 
Nell spoke an epilogue written especially to capitalize on 
her insolent style: 

The prologue durst not tell, before 'twas seen, 
The plot we had to swinge The Maideji Queen; 

JO Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

For had we then discovered our intent, 
The fop who writ it had not given consent, 
Or the new peaching trick at least had shown. 
And brought in others' faults to hide his own . . . 
Thus our poor poet would have 'scaped today, 
But from the herd I singled out his play. 
Then heigh along with me— 
Both great and small, you poets of the town. 
And Nell will love you— for to run him down. 

Dryden was a sensitive man, but he had no reason to com- 
plain; a burlesque of his play put on by his own company 
was good business. 

Following this, Nell appeared as Samira in a revival of 
The Surprisal, a romantic melodrama by Sir Robert How- 
ard, another of the "discontented members" of Parliament. 
(His wife. Lady Honora O'Brien, was discontented too; 
at the moment she was petitioning the King for relief from 
her husband's "ill usage.") The Surprisal, a worthless play 
full of windy rubbish, gave Nell no opportunities for com- 
edy. More and more she was coming to dislike serious 
parts and to play them badly. 

But play them she must. New plays, especially com- 
edies, were rare, and the King's Company had to offer as 
its stock fare revivals of old plays, chiefly by Beaumont 
and Fletcher, Jonson, Massinger, Shirley, and others who 
flourished in the first half of the century. The actor- 
directors cast as well as they could with an eye to types 
and abilities. The leading role in a comedy now went, of 
course, to Nell. The lead in a tragedy went to one of the 
Marshall sisters, or to stately Anne Quinn, who joined the 
company early in 1667, and whose surname is often con- 

'Tretty, Witty Neir 71 

fused with Nell's. A comic role in a tragi-comedy was 
likely to go to Nell; otherwise she played, perforce, "out 
of her calling, in a tragedy." And once she played a part 
—however ill it suited her— it was hers for all subsequent 
revivals. Occasionally there was no part at all for her, and 
she took an enforced holiday. 

In the spring of 1667, while Nell was playing a variety 
of roles in revivals, enjoying her successes as a comedian, 
singing, dancing, jesting, and making friends, another act 
in the national drama was unfolding. It was to have an 
effect on her small career. 

Still at war, but sunk in the lethargy of financial stagna- 
tion, England was unable to prepare its fleet for sea. The 
Dutch were in better condition; their fleet was ominously 
ready. The King, forgetting for the moment the anguish 
caused by pretty Frances Stuart's runaway match with the 
Duke of Richmond, entered into secret negotiations for 
peace. England was nearly ruined by war, plague, fire, and 
loss of trade; prices were steadily rising, and only the 
courtiers had money to spend. Even the weather was bad 
that spring; it was so cold that in April hardly a tree was 
in leaf. 

In May the desperate King's Company had another hit, 
James Howard's All Mistaken; or, The Mad Couple, a 
tragi-comedy with a heroic, love-and-honor conflict for 
the first plot, and a broad farce for the second. It was an- 
other triumph for Nell as sprightly Mirida in love with 
mad PhiHdor (ubiquitous Charles Hart) . Phihdor boasted 
of having deceived six ladies, who pursued him with de- 
mands that he keep his promises to marry them. (He must 
have deceived three more, because he was pursued also by 

72 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

three wet-nurses claiming payment for the care of his 
three bastards.) He was at least one up on Mirida, who 
could brag of having deceived only five men (and she had 
no bastards yet), but she was working hard to even the 
score, holding in play two suitors, a thin man and a fat 
one. She had promised to marry the first if he got fatter, 
and the second, Pinguister (John Lacy), if he got thinner. 
The action was a brisk medley of episodes and gross hu- 
mors—particularly gross when Pinguister resorted to 
purges to melt away his fat. Hoyden Nell had the kind of 
role she loved, and of course she was given occasion to 
dance her famous jig. 

Her best opportunity as a farceur came when little 
Nell, pretending she wished to console her fat lover, sat 
down on a stool and invited him to sit in her lap. Lacy was 
a big man and was well stuffed with cushions for his role. 
To add to the audience's delight in the scene, Nell's song 
was a parody of one sung at the Duke's Theatre by Moll 
Davis in a revival of Beaumont and Fletcher's The Rivals 
—"My lodging it is on the cold ground." 

Mir. Dear love, come sit thee in my lap, and let me see 
if I can enclose thy world of fat and love within these 
arms. [Pinguister sits down and leans against her.] See, 
I cannot nigh encompass my desires by a mile. 

Ping. [Cries]. How is my fat a rival to my joys! Sure, 
I shall weep it all away. 

Mir. Lie still, my babe, lie still and sleep; 
It grieves me sore to see thee weep. 
Wert thou but leaner, I were glad; 
Thy fatness makes thy dear love sad. 

Ping. Nay, if I had not taken all these courses to dissolve 

'Tretty, Witty Neir 73 

myself into thy embraces, one would think my looking 
on thee were enough; for I never see thee but I am like 
a fat piece of beef roasting at the fire, continually 
drop, drop, drop. There's ne'er a feature in thy face 
or part about thee but has cost me many a pint of fat 
with thinking on thee. And yet not to be lean enough 
for thy husband— O Fate! O Fate! O Fate! O Fat! 

[She lets him fall]. 
Mir. O Lord sir, I have let you fall, how shall I do to get 

you up again? 
Ping. Nay, that is more than all the world can tell. 
Mir. I'll e'en lie down by thee then. [She lies down out 

of his reach]. 
Ping. Nay, but prithee lie near me; thou hadst as good 

lie a league off as at that distance. 
Mir. Were I thy wife, fat love, I would. 
She sings. 
My lodging it is on the cold boards, 
And wonderful hard is my fare. 
But that which troubles me most is 
The fatness of my dear; 
Yet still I cry. Oh, melt, love, 
And I prithee now melt apace. 
For thou art the man I should long for, 
If 'twere not for thy grease. 

Unable to rise, helpless Pinguister begged her to lie still 
on the stage while he rolled toward her. She agreed, but 
teasingly rolled away from him as fast as he approached. 
This horse-play went on until Alirida had rolled to one 
side of the stage. Then she got up, laughed at Pinguister, 
fought a mock duel with him (while he was still flat on his 
back) , declared she had no intention of marrying him, and 

74 ^^11 Givyn: Royal Mistress 

went off in wild good humor. Eventually the play came 
to an end with reconciliations and weddings for the stupid 
people in the heroic plot, but with Mirida and Philidor re- 
jecting the ceremony in horror. They were perfectly 
willing to consummate, but they drew the line at commit- 
ting matrimony. 

In the audience was noble Lord Buckhurst, watching 
Nell with glistening eyes, according to the anonymous 
author of "The Lady of Pleasure." "He saw her roll the 
stage from side to side," and the portions of her anatomy 
revealed by her tumbled petticoats aroused a powerful 
emotion in him. Thereupon he sought out Nell's "keeper," 
Charles Hart, and begged her from him. Hart consented 

Take her, my lord, quoth Hart, since you're so mean 
To take a player's leavings for your quean, 
For though I love her well, yet as she's poor 
I'm well contented to prefer the whore. 

So Hart and Buckhurst made a deal, and Nell was 
handed casually from one keeper to another. In the Resto- 
ration cloudland almost anything could happen. But be- 
fore this remarkable transaction took place there was a 
significant event in the national drama and Nell was 
thrown out of a job. 

In May, while she was rolling on the stage from side to 
side, the Dutch fleet was threatening the English shores. 
On June 1 2 it sailed up the Medway, broke a chain across 
the river at Chatham, captured a great warship. The Royal 
Charles, and burned a squadron of English men-of-war at 
anchor. (And that night, the King dined with my Lady 

'Tretty, Witty Neir js 

Castlemaine in the Duchess of Monmouth's apartments, 
"and they were all mad in hunting a poor moth.") Lon- 
don was thrown into a panic; people began fleeing to the 
country; there were fears of invasion, treason, and rebel- 
lion; and there were wild outcries against the King and 
his ministers. As usual at times of national crisis the the- 
atres, already suffering from the hard times, were closed 
indefinitely. Once again Nell was thrown upon her own 
small resources. 

But here at hand was Lord Buckhurst— Charles Sackville, 
eldest son of Richard, Earl of Dorset. Seven years older 
than Nell, Buckhurst was a wit, a writer of ironic little 
songs, a member of Parliament, colonel of a regiment of 
foot, and a deputy lieutenant of Kent. He took his duties 
lightly; he had little interest in fame or promotion. As the 
heir to great estates— the earldoms of Middlesex and Dorset 
—his prospects were magnificent. 

For a while Buckhurst was elusive. He was too busy 
giving aid and comfort to his friend, the Duke of Buck- 
ingham, who in February had escaped the sergeant-at-arms 
sent to arrest him, and for three months had been skulking 
about London in disguise. Tiring of the game at last, 
Buckingham surrendered on June 28, but in a burst of 
bravado insisted upon dining publicly at the Sun Tavern 
with his allies, Lords Buckhurst and Vaughan, on his wav 
to the Tower. 

Early in July Pepys heard on good authority that Nell 
had gone off with Buckhurst and had "sent her parts to the 
house and will act no more." The young couple could 
hardly call it love, though at their age the hey-dav in the 
blood was neither tame nor humble. It was a perfectly 

76 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

business-like arrangement: one hundred pounds a year (a 
fortune to Nell, especially in her jobless state) paid by 
Buckhurst for the right to have, hold, occupy, possess, and 
enjoy one tenement of clay. 

It was very hot that July. The happy pair had fled from 
steaming, troubled London to the pleasant little spa of Ep- 
som. Thither, quite by chance, Mr. and Mrs. Pepys fol- 
lowed them, stopping at the King's Head Inn. Pepys was 
surprised to learn that Nell and Buckhurst were lodged 
next door and that Sir Charles Sedley was with them, the 
three keeping "a merry house." Unctuously he com- 
mented, "Poor girl! I pity her; but more the loss of her at 
the King's House." There was no need to pity Nell; she 
had taken another step up in the world. 


by the 

I 6 6 J - 1 6 6 p 



URING THE SUMMER of 1667 the war clouds 
rumbled farther away, while at Breda the ambassadors of 
England, France and Holland dickered over a treaty of 
peace. In London the Duke of Buckingham proved him- 
self innocent of treason, was released from the Tower, and 
taken back into favor again, largely because of the inter- 
vention of his cousin, Lady Castlemaine. While Buckhurst 
and Nell continued their illicit honeymoon, their friend, 
the great duke, had an encounter with Harry Killigrew 
which set all the gossips' tongues a-wag. 

For some time Killigrew, Lady Shrewsbury's jilted 
lover, had been revenging himself by spreading abroad 
luscious stories and descriptions of her most intimate 
charms. Now at the reopening of the Duke's Theatre on 
July 20, he found himself seated next to a box occupied 
by Buckingham, his homely duchess (the blindly adoring 
Mary Fairfax), and Lady Shrewsbury herself. His bitter- 
ness boiling over, Killigrew "drolled with" the duke, 
"spake scurvy language at him," and at last struck him 
over the head with his sheathed sword and ran. Bucking- 
ham drew his own weapon and pursued the hero over 
boxes and forms, cut at him, knocked him down, and 
kicked him soundly, while Killigrew cried, "Good your 
grace, spare my life!" The theatre was in a turmoil; 


8o Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

Lady Shrewsbury was "hugely frighted," the duchess 
"swounded," and the duke lost his periwig. 

The news that the players were acting again had its ef- 
fect in the "merry house" at Epsom, where troubles were 
already brewing. Well-bred young sparks are sometimes 
pained to discover that an impudent, risque actress is 
merely coarse and vulgar when taken away from the foot- 
lights, and the actress who listens to a gentleman's golden 
vows may be disappointed, too. Nell was an expensive 
plaything for a man of moderate income. Whatever hap- 
pened between the two, in less than six weeks the summer 
idyl was over. There was only one place for Nell to go- 
back to the stage. By August 22 she was at the King's 
House playing her old role in The Indian Emperor ("most 
basely," quoth Pepys, although he was glad to see her 
again), and Orange Moll was spreading the report that 
Buckhurst had left her, that he was making sport of her 
and swearing that she had had "all she could get of him." 

Nell had fallen from her step, and the bump was pain- 
ful. In her indiscreet way she had let everyone know not 
only that she was quitting the stage to live with Buckhurst 
but even the annual wages of her sin. Now she had to re- 
turn to the toil, uncertainty, and mere shillings per week 
of the theatre— a failure. She was very poor, said Orange 
Moll; Charles Hart, once her "great admirer," now hated 
her; Lady Castlemaine had withdrawn her patronage; and 
Nell was "neglected by them all." Not by the men, of 
course. She was shunned by the ladies of the stage, who 
prided themselves on maintaining their amateur standing 
—in public, at least. 

For some weeks Nell had her troubles; there were quar- 

SuTmnoned by the King 8i 

rels with envious people who took advantage of her fall 
from grace. On one occasion that autumn, for example, 
Beck Marshall fell out with Nell and scornfully called her 
"my Lord Buckhurst's whore." As the story was told to 
Pepys, Nell replied, "I was but one man's whore, though 
I was brought up in a bawdy-house to fill strong waters to 
the guests; and you are a whore to three or four, though a 
Presbyter's praying daughter." Nell had not forgotten her 
liaison with Hart, but that had been an affaire de coeur; 
only with Buckhurst had she been a "whore." Score one 
for sharp-tongued Nell. 

Within a month or two everything blew over, Nell's 
escapade was forgotten, and she was a member of the com- 
pany in good standing. All her parts had been returned to 
her in August, and that autumn she played as usual in re- 
vivals of The Indian Emperor^ The Maiden Queen, The 
Surprisal, and The Mad Couple, among others. Eventually 
she won her way back into Hart's good graces, if not into 
his bed, and he continued as her leading man. The follow- 
ing spring he consoled himself by an aflFair with Lady 
Castlemaine, with pious Beck Marshall acting as go- 

In October Nell had a new role as Flora in a revival of 
Richard Rhodes' Flora's Vagaries, a romantic intrigue 
comedy, full of complications and confusion. It was, as 
Pepys pronounced it, "a very silly play." As Flora, a fairly 
lively character, Nell had some opportunities to be noisv 
and boisterous, but there was no real scope for her comic 

Pepys took his wife to the plav on October 5. Since 
they were early, Mary Knepp took them upstairs "to the 

82 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

women's shift, where Nell was dressing herself, and was 
all unready, and is very pretty." Thence they went down 
into the scene room, and Pepys read the cues to Mrs. 
Knepp while she ran through her part in the play. Pepys' 
roving eyes missed nothing. It made him sick to see how 
both Knepp and Nell were painted, "and what base com- 
pany of men comes among them, and how lewdly they 
talk! and how poor the men are in clothes, and yet what 
a show they make on the stage by candlelight. But to see 
how Nell cursed, for having so few people in the pit, was 
pretty!" As a hireling Nell had no financial interest in the 
size of the audience, but a poor pit usually meant re- 
hearsals for another play in the morning. And sure enough, 
two days later Jonson's Poetaster was on the boards. 

In November the company revived Beaumont and 
Fletcher's old melodrama Philaster. Hart had the name 
part, and Nell was Bellario, the love-sick girl who fol- 
lowed the hero disguised as a page-boy and was most 
unjustly accused of seducing the heroine. Originally in- 
tended to be played by a boy actor, Bellario was not a hu- 
morous character, but with an actress of Nell's talents such 
a "breeches part" was rich in comic, if not bawdy, possi- 
bilities. She and Hart became so identified with their roles 
that twenty-five years later playgoers attending a perform- 
ance of Philaster had their memories jogged by these lines 
in a new prologue: 

That good old play Philaster ne'er can fail, 
But we young actors, how shall we prevail? 
Philaster and Bellario, let me tell ye, 
For these bold parts we have no Hart, no Nelly, 
Those darlings of the stage that charmed you there. 

Summoned by the King 83 

That autumn and winter, while the theatres were profit- 
ing from the post-war rise in prosperity, the Duke of 
Buckingham and his "discontented" crew were laying 
their periwigs together in a scheme which was to affect 
the careers of two promising young players. Buckingham 
had plenty of time for plots. After the scandal in the the- 
atre created by Harry Killigrew, Lady Shrewsbury, vow- 
ing mayhem and murder, had fled from England and was 
now hiding in a French nunnery. Killigrew fled to France 
also— but not to a monastery. 

In the late summer Buckingham had formed an uneasy 
alliance with Lady Castlemaine to ruin Chancellor Claren- 
don. When their plot succeeded and Clarendon fell, on 
August 30, the cousins quarreled over the spoils of vic- 
tory. Since Buckingham's enormous vanity could brook 
no rivals in his bid for power— indeed, he thought himself 
much better fitted to rule than his lazy friend Charles 
Stuart— he now plotted to destroy the countess via the 
backstairs. He "broke" with her, and "studied to take the 
King from her by new amours." Thinking that "gaiety of 
humor would take much with the King," he turned to the 
ladies of the stage, many of whom were gay, pretty, lively, 
and although a trifle shopworn, still young. The easy- 
going King rarely chose a mistress for himself, leaving that 
pleasant task to the Court favorites, who "managed" the 
new concubine to their own advantage. 

Buckingham's chief aides were Colonel Thomas How- 
ard and his brother Sir Robert Howard, the plav^vright. 
From the King's Company the conspirators chose Ts^'ell 
Gwyn, a noted comedian, experienced in love and well 
recommended. Then, on the principle that if one failed 

84 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

the other might succeed, from the Duke's Company they 
picked Moll Davis, an accomplished singer and dancer, 
and said to be a natural daughter of Colonel Howard him- 

Both ladies were approached at about the same time- 
late in November or early in December— and both, of 
course, responded eagerly. But for some reason Moll 
quickly took a commanding lead over her rival. On Jan- 
uary 1 1, 1668, Mrs. Knepp told Pepys that "a good while 
ago" the King had summoned Nell to Whitehall a few 
times, that Nell had duly visited the monarch, but with 
what results in the way of lechery Mrs. Knepp did not 
know. But she knew very well what had happened to 
Moll Davis. Already the King had given Moll a ring worth 
£700, and now he was furnishing a house for her in Suf- 
folk Street. Everybody knew that she was the King's new- 
est mistress. She was behaving like an "impertinent slut," 
glorying in her elevation, and my Lady Castlemaine was 

What was wrong with Nell? She was every whit as 
pretty as Moll Davis, and if her singing and dancing were 
not up to the mark set by her rival, her wit was certainly 
better. Moreover she had Buckingham's backing. In the 
coarse terms of "The Lady of Pleasure," Buckingham is 
supposed to have said to the King, after scolding him for 
doting on Castlemaine, 

Permit me, sir, to help you to a whore . . . 
She'll fit you to a hair, all wit, all fire. 
And impudent to your own heart's desire, 
And more than this, sir, you'll save money by her. 

Summoned by the King 85 

Fictitious or not, the last argument was one to interest a 
king who was always short of funds. But Buckingham, 
NelFs "manager," made a serious blunder. As he told 
Bishop Burnet some years later, when Nell "was first 
brought to the King, she asked only five hundred pounds 
a year." Only five hundred pounds, an amount far out of 
line with all of Nell's previous experience! Yet to Buck- 
ingham, a wastrel who ran through one of the largest for- 
tunes in England, it was no more than pin money. The 
King refused. He was always rich in promises, and some- 
times he gave valuable presents, but he was understandably 
slow to settle large pensions on strolling players. Moll 
Davis, more wisely managed by Colonel Howard, ac- 
cepted the King's gifts and throve. 

However, although Nell failed of a full-time post, she 
was not dropped from the competition. "The wildest and 
indiscreetest creature that ever was in a court" could not 
easily be ignored. Buckingham was still her patron, and 
there were occasional bookings to be had as an entertainer 
at the King's private parties late at night. Sometimes she 
stayed on for more entertaining after the guests had de- 

It was not far from Nell's lodgings in Drury Lane to 
the palace— just a step to the Strand, then westward to 
Charing Cross and south in King Street— but socially it was 
a journey over a vast distance. Of course a pretty young 
actress w^ould not be expected to trudge a-foot through 
the dark, dirty streets. One traveled in a sedan-chair, glit- 
tering with gold-leaf and glassed in against the weather; 
with two sturdy chairmen to carry the dainty conveyance, 
a link-boy to show the way with his flaring torch, and a 

S6 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

footman, armed with a crab-tree cudgel, to bring up the 
rear. There were winding streets and sudden turns, then 
the sprawling mass of the palace with its courtyards and 
galleries and the passageway leading to the backstairs, 
ChifEnch's chambers, and the King's lodgings. . . . For- 
tune's door was open, and Nell had one foot over the sill. 

Buckingham might have given her more help, but he 
rarely carried any of his projects to a conclusion. Any- 
way, Moll Davis had succeeded in diverting the King suf- 
ficiently; Castlemaine's power was waning and Bucking- 
ham's growing day by day. Moreover, he had troubles of 
his own. The Earl of Shrewsbury, pressed by his kinsmen 
to revenge his injured honor, at last and very reluctantly 
sent Buckingham a challenge. On January 17, 1668, a 
pitched battle was fought in a close at Barn Elms, with 
three men to a side. At the end Captain William Jenkins, 
one of Buckingham's seconds, lay dead on the field, and 
Shrewsbury was carried off, fatally wounded. He lingered 
for exactly two months, however. After his death the 
body was opened by a convocation of politic doctors who 
gravely pronounced that the wound 'Vas perfectly 

For two months there were charges, petitions, appeals, 
and pardons, and Buckingham, for all that he put a brave 
face on the matter, even sitting openly in the pit of the 
Duke's Theatre with Buckhurst, Sedley, and Etherege, 
was a worried man. He had no time for Nell's affairs, and 
she was left to make her own way in the gallant world of 

Her occasional visits to the palace were not allowed to 
interfere with her other profession. She continued on the 

Summoned by the King 87 

stage for nearly two years longer, performing in a variety 
of roles, gaining a few new laurels as a comedian, and in 
serious roles playing at best only adequately, at worst 
"most basely." Pepys found it difficult to understand why 
she performed in any serious part ''just like a fool or a 
changeling," and yet "in a mad part" played "beyond all 
imitation almost." 

On February 20, 1668, she played Maria in Sir Robert 
Howard's new play. The Duke of Lerma. Maria was the 
chaste daughter of a diabolical father, Lerma, who sought 
to make her a king's mistress. In this serious role Nell 
gained no particular fame. However, "Knepp and Nell 
spoke the prologue most excellently," and Howard gave 
Nell an epilogue which allowed her to speak her mind 
about non-comic roles: 

... I know you in your hearts 

Hate serious plays as I do serious parts— 

To trouble us with thoughts and state designs, 

A melancholy plot tied with strong lines! — 

I had not the least part today, you see; 

Troth, he has neither writ for you nor me. 

A week later she had still another serious character to 
play, a "breeches part" in a revival of Massinger's The 
Virgin Martyr. As a member of the Heavenly Host sent to 
earth disguised as a page-boy to watch over the soul of 
Dorothea, the Virgin (Beck Marshall), Nell's chief func- 
tion was to stand by and encourage the tried and tempted 
heroine, pointing significantly to Heaven whenever she 
seemed to weaken. 

Largely because of its music and scenery the plav \\'as 

88 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

popular and often performed. One night in May Pepys 
went backstage just as the play was ended and saw Beck 
Marshall come off-stage dressed in her white robe and the 
gold crown of martyrdom, "mighty fine, and pretty, and 
noble." With her came Nell as Angelo, the good angel, 
"in her boy's clothes, mighty pretty." His bubble of illu- 
sion was shattered at once. "Lord," he cried, "their con- 
fid-ence! and how many men do hover about them as 
soon as they came oif the stage, and how confident they 
are in their talk!" It was enough to make a man "loath 

For the rest of the spring of 1668 new parts were few 
and far between. Nell was ambitious, but the theatre had 
little more to offer, and actresses rarely grew rich on their 
salaries. In May pampered Moll Davis at last left the 
Duke's Theatre for good, moving into her fine new house 
and parading her glory in public. Nell was playing her 
heart out on the stage, while at Whitehall Moll was getting 
the curtain calls. Now and then Nell was summoned to 
the palace, but her chances of preferment seemed slimmer 
than ever. Lady Castlemaine was certainly fading, but 
Moll Davis was just as certainly in full bloom, and now 
Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond, still beautiful even 
after an attack of small-pox, had been persuaded to return 
to Whitehall while her husband was sent on convenient 
missions abroad. There was no hope of help from Buck- 
ingham. That May the widowed Lady Shrewsbury re- 
turned to England. (Doggedly, Killigrew followed.) 
When her family refused to receive her, Buckingham 
took her to his own home. The meek Duchess of Bucking- 
ham objected that it was not seemly for wife and mistress 

Summoned by the King 89 

to live in the same house, whereupon the great duke re- 
pHed, "Why, madam, I did think so, and therefore have 
ordered your coach to be ready to carry you to your 
father's." Thereafter he lived openly with his luscious 
Anna-Maria, to the scandal of the godly. 

Dryden's new comedy. An Evening's Love; or^ The 
Mock Astrologer y was produced on June 12 ("very 
smutty," said Mr. Pepys, "and nothing as good as his 
Maiden Queen''). His leading characters, Wildblood and 
Jacintha (Hart and Nelly) were modeled on his earlier 
creations, Celadon and Florimel, but his inventive powers 
had rusted. Again, however, Jacintha, another "mad girl," 
was designed to make the most of Nell's comic appeal. She 
flirted and bantered with her rakish lover, testing his con- 
stancy in a variety of ways— once she was disguised as a 
Moorish maid and once as a mulatto— and each time prov- 
ing him fickle as a weathercock. Nevertheless she con- 
tinued to love him and in due time accepted him with the 
usual quibbling provisos. Of course Nell had a chance to 
sing a couple of songs— one a mildly suggestive duet with 
Hart— and to dance her famous jig. 

Dryden drew upon his knowledge of Nell and his fa- 
miliarity with Court circles for one significant speech 
given to Jacintha. When Wildblood's passionate wooing 
was turned off with a quip, he asked, "Then what is a gen- 
tleman to hope from you?" Dreamily Jacintha answered, 
"To be admitted to pass my time with ^^'hile a better 
comes; to be the lowest step in my staircase, for a knight 
to mount uporr him, and a lord upon him, and a marquis 
upon him, and a duke upon him, till I get as high as I can 
climb." A dangerous speech, especially w^hen the King— 

90 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

the landing at the top of the stairs— was sitting in his usual 

The theatre remained open during the heat of summer, 
playing to small audiences. NelFs life went on in its usual 
round. She was getting older, eighteen now— in the terms 
of her world almost an old maid— and she had neither hus- 
band nor keeper. Of course she had popular admiration 
a-plenty. On September 1 5 she played the role of Lysette, 
a witty waiting maid, in Richard Flecknoe's Damoiselles 
a la Mode, a comedy so bad that "when they came to say 
it would be acted again tomorrow, both he that said it, 
Beeson, and the pit fell a-laughing." Undaunted by fail- 
ure, vain, foolish Flecknoe embalmed his admiration for 
Nell in deathless verse "On a Pretty Little Person": 

She is pretty, and she knows it; 

She is witty, and she shows it; 

And besides that she's so witty, 

And so little and so pretty, 

Sh'has a hundred other parts 

For to take and conquer hearts. 

'Mongst the rest her air's so sprightful, 

And so pleasant and delightful, 

With such charms and such attractions 

In her words and in her actions, 

As whoe'er do hear and see, 

Say there's none do charm but she. 

But who have her in their arms. 

Say sh'has hundred other charms, 

And as many more attractions 

In her words and in her actions. 

But for that, suffice to tell ye, 

'Tis the little pretty Nelly. 

Summoned by the King 91 

Such a glowing tribute was enough to sustain an actress 
through a whole winter of discontent. 

On December 1 8 Ben Jonson's Catiline was performed 
by the King's Company in all the splendor of sixteen scar- 
let robes, paid for by the King. Nell had no part in the 
play, but there was a prologue for her "To be merrily 
spoke by Mrs. Nell, in an Amazonian habit"— a crested 
helmet, a belted tunic, cut short above her bare knees, 
buskins, and a bow and quiver full of arrows slung over 
one shoulder. It was the usual bantering, indelicate speech 
designed to put the audience in a good humor, making fun 
of the play and the playwright, who had a strange preju- 
dice against women and wrote only to "poetic cham- 
pions." The company, however, hoped more for the ap- 
plause of those still in their "infancy of wit," 

Which, if they prove the greatest number, then 
The House hath cause to thank Neil more than Ben; 
Our author might prefer your praise perhaps, 
We'd rather have your money than your claps. 

The play was very popular, partly because Ladv Castle- 
maine bribed Mrs. Corey, who had the role of the plotting 
busybody, Sempronia, to play her part as a take-off on 
Lady Elizabeth Harvey. Lady Elizabeth, wife of Sir Dan- 
iel Harvey who had recently been sent to Constantinople 
as ambassador to Turkey, w^as a notorious states\\'oman. 
At the first performance, when the stage Cicero was asked, 
"But what will you do with Sempronia?" Castlemaine 
stood up in her box and bawled, "Send her to Constanti- 
nople!" The furious Lady Harvey had Mrs. Corey im- 
prisoned. Lady Castlemaine had her released. At subse- 

92 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

quent performances Lady Harvey hired men to hiss and 
fling oranges, and everybody came to see the fun. 

On January 7, 1669, Pepys went to the King's House to 
see Fletcher's The Island Priijcess, in which there was no 
part for ''the jade Nell." She chose instead to watch the 
play with a companion of hers from the Duke's Company. 
She sat in a box, "a bold, merry slut, who lay laughing 
there upon people," more interested in the audience than 
the performance. 

A week later she was playing with Lacy in "a farce of 
several dances" between the acts of Katherine Phillips' 
Horace. Sometime in March or April she had another 
"breeches part" as Pulcheria, a lovelorn maiden, in a re- 
vival of Shirley's The Sisters. Other than these her per- 
formances that winter and spring were not memorable. A 
new play by Dryden had been scheduled for April, but 
troubles over the scenery forced its postponement until 
June. On May 1 8, Sir Charles Sedley's first comedy. The 
Mulberry Garden, was rather indifferently received; as 
usual the company fell back on its repertor}^ of stock 

That month there was another episode in the Bucking- 
ham-Shrewsbury-Killigrew triangle. On the night of May 
1 8, as Killigrew was riding in a hackney coach to his house 
in Turnham Green, he was set upon in the highway by 
four of Lady Shrewsbury's footmen. In the fight that fol- 
lowed Killigrew received "nine very desperate wounds," 
and was left for dead. During the fray Lady Shrewsbury 
watched happily from her coach. The next day she went 
into hiding, but, of course, no one identified the lady in 
the coach. Eventually Killigrew recovered, made his peace 

Summoned by the King 93 

with Buckingham and the widow and was received again 
at Court. 

Except that the principals were all her friends, the affair 
meant little to Nell, who was still only on the fringes of 
Court life. More important to her that month, because it 
reflected on her own unwanted state and at the same time 
gave her hopes, was the fact that fierce old Prince Rupert, 
the King's cousin, after dallying for at least two years with 
Nell's colleague, Margaret Hughes, finally took her from 
the stage as his acknowledged mistress. Thereafter (as 
Mrs. Hughes herself once said) "she and Prince Rupert 
were as constant to each other as any man and his wife 
were in England." (In 1673 their constancy was rewarded 
by the birth of a daughter, demurely named Ruperta.) 

Dryden's long-delayed play. Tyrannic Love; or, The 
Royal Martyr y was finally produced late in June. The in- 
genious playwright had hit on a way to employ Nell's tal- 
ents to their fullest in a tragedy. As Valeria, daughter of 
the cruel Emperor Maximin (persecutor of St. Catherine) 
Nell had little more to do in the play than wander about, 
bewailing her hopeless love for Porphyrins (Hart) , and at 
last stabbing herself when it seemed that her stubborn be- 
loved must die. He survived to marry Berenice (Beck 
Marshall) . Nell's big moment came at the end of the play; 
this time she took care to die on the outer stas^e. The 
stretcher-bearers came out, lifted her onto their bier, and 
were about to carry her off when she sat up and called to 
the leader. 

Hold, are you mad! You damned, confounded dog! 
I am to rise and speak the epilogue. 

94 ^^11 Gwyn: Royal Alistress 

Then she turned to the audience: 

I come, kind gentlemen, strange news to tell ye: 
I am the ghost of poor departed Nelly. 
Sweet ladies, be not frightened, I'll be civil; 
Vm what I was, a little harmless devil. 
For after death we sprites have just such natures 
We had, for all the world, when human creatures; 
And therefore I, that was an actress here. 
Play all my tricks in Hell— a goblin there! 
Gallants, look to't, you say there are no sprites, 
But I'll come dance about your beds at nights. 
And, faith, you'll be in a sweet kind of taking, 
When I surprise you between sleep and waking. 
To tell you true, I walk because I die 
Out of my calling, in a tragedy. 
O poet, damned dull poet, who could prove 
So senseless to make Nelly die for love! 
Nay, what's yet worse, to kill me in the prime 
Of Easter term, in tart and cheese-cake time! 
I'll fit the fop, for I'll not one word say 
T'excuse his godly, out-of-fashion play, 
A play, which if you dare but twice sit out, 
You'll all be slandered, and be thought devout! 
But farewell, gentlemen, make haste to me; 
I'm sure ere long to have your company. 
As for my epitaph when I am gone, 
I'll trust no poet, but will write my own: 
"Here Nelly lies, who, though she Hved a slattern, 
"Yet died a princess, acting in Saint Cattem." 

In a roar of applause Nell kissed her hand to the pit, sank 
back on the bier, folded her arms, and was carried off in 

Summoned by the King 95 

According to a pleasant tradition old enough to be re- 
spected, Nell "so captivated the King by the humorous 
turns" she gave to this epilogue that after the play His 
Majesty "went behind the scenes and carried her off to an 
entertainment that night." Of course, there were many 
kinds of entertainments. Sir Francis Fane tells of one kind 
which was not infrequent during the summer of 1669. 

One night the King, who had lately taken to sleeping 
with his wife in hopes of an heir, pretended illness as an 
excuse for retiring to his own bedchamber. In the morning 
the simple Queen went in to see how he was. The King 
was almost surprised "between sleep and waking"; there 
was just enough warning for Nell to slip out of bed "in 
her nightgown and with one slipper on" and hide behind 
the hangings of the bed. 

The Queen complimented the King on his apparent 
good health and turned to go. Charles thoughtlessly in- 
vited her to stay and sit down by him a while. Gratified 
at the small courtesy, the Queen was about to do so when 
she spied Nell's other slipper on the floor. She understood 
the situation at once and said quietly, "I will not stay for 
fear the pretty fool that owns that little slipper might take 
cold." Without a word of reproach she "went her way." 

The King had no luck with his barren w^ife and all too 
much with his other bedfellows. By the end of the sum- 
mer Nell was aware of a change in her condition. She con- 
tinued on the stage as long as she could, but she found it 
increasingly difficult to play her favorite roles, especially 
those in which she dressed as a boy. At last, late in the 
year, she gave up, left her lodgings in Drurv Lane and 
moved to a house in Lincoln's Inn Fields. But she ^^'as still 

g6 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

a member of the company. On October 2 her name was 
listed in another of the biennial warrants for liveries to 
actors: a quarter of a yard of velvet and "four yards of 
bastard scarlet cloth." 



I 6 '1 

V 1 


.HIS TIME there was a good chance that Nell's de- 
parture from the stage might be permanent. In the due 
course of nature she would bring forth a child in \\ hose 
veins ran the royal blood of the Stuarts. She had every 
reason to hope that, as usual in such cases, his father would 
provide for him, and, of course, would shower the mother 
with wealth and honors. But no one could ever be sure 
about King Charles. Several years earher there had been 
the affair of mysterious Mrs. Hazlerigg, another fertile 
beauty who had shared the regal bed. At the time every- 
body knew about "the King's new bastard by Mrs. Hazle- 
rigg," but the child was never acknowledged and the 
mother dropped out of sight. Perhaps the infant died. 

Anyway, the slow processes of gestation could not be 
altered by doubts or fears. Nell moved into her new place 
in Newman's Row, next to Whetstone Park— a street 
teeming with prostitutes— paid occasional visits to \Miite- 
hall and continued to contribute to the King's entertain- 
ment as best she could. Even the French Ambassador, 
Charles Colbert de Croissy, laughed at her "buifooneries," 
and told his master, Louis XIV, how much they amused 
the King of England. 

Charles the Second, "by the Grace of God King of 
England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, Defender of the 
Faith," was now forty years old, a tall, dark man \^'ith a 


loo Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

vigorous body, a saturnine face, and sensuous lips shad- 
owed by a small black mustache. He had no faith in any 
sort of virtue, yet as kings go he was reasonably honest, 
often generous, and, in spite of his many sneers at religion, 
a secret Catholic. But his God was a gentleman who would 
never "make a man miserable only for taking a little pleas- 
ure out of the way." 

Unfortunately it was more than just "a little pleasure." 
His more sober-minded courtiers often commented on 
"the wantonness of the Court and how it minds nothing 
else," and bewailed the shameless conduct of the King 
who, they said, spent most of his time with his mistresses, 
"feeling and kissing them naked." But Charles was no 
Nero given up to sloth, cruelty, and lust. He was annoy- 
ingly athletic, a lover of sports and games, good at bowls 
and tennis, devoted to hunting and fishing. He was ver- 
satile, subtle, and very clever; even Louis XIV, the 
"Grand Monarch" of France, was not his equal in di- 

He had been a confirmed libertine for some twenty- 
four years. During the last eight of those years he had 
been a kindly if somewhat negligent husband. His wife, 
the dark-skinned, homely little Portuguese, Catherine of 
Braganza, had learned to endure her husband's infidelities 
and, lacking the comfort of children, had come to solace 
herself with masquerades, balls, fine clothes, and religion. 
She was a Roman CathoHc, of course, but so were many 
of the English nobility. When the Countess of Castle- 
maine announced her own conversion to the faith hated 
so bitterly by all good Protestants, the King refused to 

Fruitful Interlude loi 

interfere, remarking that he never meddled with the souls 
of his ladies. 

Before Nell Gwyn came into Whitehall via the back- 
stairs, King Charles had meddled with the bodies of a large 
assortment of ladies, some of whom had presented him 
with new subjects, illegitimate, but cast in his image. By 
1670 the roster of his known offspring was already size- 
able. During his exile in the Jersey Isles in 1646 he had 
become familiar with one Marguerite de Carteret. Her son 
grew up to become a Jesuit priest, known as James de la 
Cloche. In Holland, two years later, there was Lucy 
Walter, a bold, brunette beauty. Her son, James Scott, 
Duke of Monmouth, had luxurious apartments in White- 
hall and was his father's favorite. Some time in 1650, Eliza- 
beth, Lady Shannon (Tom KiUigrew's sister) was kind to 
the exiled King and bore him a daughter, Charlotte Fitz- 
roy. Eleanor, Lady Byron, taken into keeping about 1652, 
was a disappointment. Catherine Pegge, later Lady 
Greene, gave the King two children: in 1657 a son, 
Charles Fitzcharles, Earl of Plymouth, and a year after- 
ward a daughter who either died in infancy or grew up to 
take the veil in a French nunnery. 

Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine, chief mistress 
from 1660 to 1670, gave the King five children in that pe- 
riod: Anne in 1661, Charles in 1662, Henry in 1663, Char- 
lotte in 1664, and George, whose birth scandalized Ox- 
ford, in 1665. (After George there were seven lean 
years.) Strictly speaking, Castlemaine's progeny \\'ere not 
illegitimate. They were born in wedlock, although the 
lady's husband, Roger, Earl of Castlemaine, had stopped 
living with her in 16^2 and had gone abroad, where he re- 

I02 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

mained for the next fifteen years. But the children were 
all acknowledged by the King (with some doubts and 
hesitations) and given the common surname of Fitzroy. 
Charles now had a considerable family to care for: nine or 
ten children plus the mothers who were still alive. 

He provided for them generously. Payments to the 
royal concubines were scaled according to their rank and 
the pressures they could bring to bear. A lady of gentle 
birth, even if she proved barren, was sure of some kind of 
a pension, a post at Court, or both. If she produced a child 
she had a permanent claim on the King's bounty and 
could look forward to at least a house in a genteel location 
near the palace— Pall Mall, for example, where Lady 
Greene lived— and an income befitting her creative talents. 
Lady Castlemaine, whose blue eyes, perfect features, five 
children, and furious temper gave her incredible power, 
was granted thousands of pounds worth of jewels, lands, 
and properties, and now had an income of £4,700 a year 
out of the Post Office revenues. 

The King provided for his illegitimate brood by various 
devices. As rapidly as possible he raised his half -royal sons 
to the peerage, promoting them through the ranks to the 
very top. Eventually, counting those sons born after 1669, 
he had six dukes and one earl bearing his bar sinister on 
their shields. (If the Earl of Plymouth had not died in 
1680 he would likely have been a duke too.) To get in- 
comes for these ducal dignitaries the King levied on al- 
most every branch and trickle of his hereditary revenue 
and kept an eagle-eyed watch for promising heiresses. He 
took care of his daughters economically enough by mar- 
rying them to scions of the nobility; thus in the course of 

Fruitful Interlude 103 

time the peerage was enriched by four half -royal coun- 
tesses. (All told, Charles fathered— acknowledged— nine 
sons and five daughters.) 

In addition to the members of his large family there 
were certain ladies who had claims on the King for services 
rendered. There was Winifred Wells, one of the Queen's 
Maids of Honor; Mary Knight, the famous singer, who, 
like Lady Greene, had a house in Pall Mall; Jane Roberts, 
said to be the daughter of a clergyman— and stolen from 
the King by the angel-faced Earl of Rochester; and Mary, 
the widowed Lady Falmouth, who in 1674 became the 
first wife of Nell Gwyn's old lover. Lord Buckhurst. 

There were many more, but most of them were not 
ladies. One of the duties of William Chiffinch, Keeper of 
the Privy Closet and Page of the Bedchamber, was to serve 
as usher to various women of the night. The King's apart- 
ments overlooking the river connected with the rooms oc- 
cupied by Chiffinch. These in turn opened onto a back 
hallway which led in one direction to the backstairs and 
so down to a courtyard, and in the other directly to the 
Privy Stairs and the waterside. Across the hall, a little too 
close for comfort, were the Queen's apartments. Most of 
the King's nocturnal visitors came by boat from the City 
and landed at the Privy Stairs, \\'here Chiffinch took thcni 
in charge. Chiffinch was also the King's private paymaster; 
he received thousands of pounds from the Secret Service 
funds "without account." 

Many of this "numerous train of clean and unclean" 
who went one by one into "William Chiffinch's ark" were 
professionals; occasionally one was diseased and left a pain- 
ful memorial of her visit. However, the Restoration atti- 

I04 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

tude toward "the pox" (a term applied without distinction 
to both syphilis and gonorrhea) was pleasantly jocular. 
The victim fluxed, took "diet-drink," went to a sweating- 
house, or in extreme cases undertook the tedious mercury 
treatment, much to the amusement of his more careful (or 
fortunate) friends. Royal blood was not immune to bac- 

For two years Nell Gwyn (like her predecessor and 
fellow actress, Elizabeth Weaver) had been one of the 
"numerous train"— a superior member, welcomed as much 
for her wit and mimicry as for her sex, but nonetheless 
only one of a common rout. Now, unable to work at 
either of her trades, she was dependent on the King's 
bounty as dispensed by Chiffinch's none too liberal hand. 
If only the Duke of Buckingham could be persuaded to 
help her she might yet displace Moll Davis and even rise 
to challenge the great Lady Castlemaine. Nell was not pre- 
sumptuous. She was an actress and therefore self-confi- 
dent; more than that, she was impudent, ambitious, and 

But Buckingham, now all-powerful in the state, was 
chasing down a new fantasy in the spring of 1670, a 
scheme to ruin another of his enemies, the Duke of York, 
heir-presumptive to the throne. The plot was beautifully 
simple: to get the King a divorce from his barren wife and 
to marry him to some more fruitful princess. 

Although divorce had been practically impossible in 
England since the time of Henry VIII, precedent was in 
the making with the famous Roos case, now pending in 
the House of Lords. Shortly after the Restoration, Lady 
Anne Manners, wife of a country gentleman, John, Lord 

Fruit Jul Interlude 1O5 

Roos, deserted her husband's bed and, bored with Ufe in 
the provinces, fled to London. After more than a year's 
absence she returned with proof that she had not wholly 
wasted her time. Within a few weeks she gave birth to a 
son. Since she herself could not recall the father's name, 
the child was aptly labeled Ignotus. Lord Roos, reluctant 
to have another man's son inherit his estates, asked the 
House of Lords for an act to illegitimize little Ignotus and 
any other infants produced by Lady Anne, who wilfully 
continued her errant ways. Meanwhile he sued in the ec- 
clesiastical courts for a decree of separation. 

After some years of litigation with testimony so lurid 
that even the bishops blushed, the House of Lords sol- 
emnly declared Ignotus a bastard, and the Court of the 
Arches granted Roos's suit for separation. But Roos was 
not content. He was the only surviving son and heir of the 
Earl of Rutland, and quite naturally he wanted a legiti- 
mate son to carry on his line. In March, 1670, he presented 
the House of Lords with a bill for a final decree of di- 
vorcement with permission to marry again. 

While the King looked on with interest and some 
amusement Buckingham pushed the bill as hard as he 
could. The York faction, fearing the precedent— for if a 
wife's adultery could be grounds for divorce, so, perhaps, 
could her sterility— fought to defeat it. The w^atchful mis- 
tresses vjtvt not amused; Buckingham was working di- 
rectly against their interests. Their hold on the King was 
mainly through their children, and a new Queen, bearing 
a succession of jolly little heirs, would ruin them as well 
as the Duke of York. 

On April 1 2 the Roos bill was passed by a narrow mar- 

io6 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

gin. With indecent haste Buckingham was preparing a bill 
for the dissolution of the royal marriage when the King, 
with one of the sudden shifts for which he was famous, 
put a stop to the proceedings and declared that he would 
hang the man who so much as mentioned the Queen's in- 
fertility. Undaunted, Buckingham then proposed to ab- 
duct Catherine and send her overseas to a plantation 
"where she should be well and carefully looked to, but 
never heard of any more." Charles could then get a di- 
vorce on the ground of desertion. The horrified King re- 
fused. "He said it was a wicked thing to make a poor lady 
miserable only because she was his wife and had no chil- 
dren by him, which was no fault of hers." 

Nell's condition was now obvious. She was finding it 
increasingly difficult to get about that April, and just as 
difficult to be her usual merry self. In seventeenth-century 
England childbirth was a heavy gamble with death. 
Women accepted the gamble as the way of life, and found 
harsh comfort in the BibHcal injunction, "In sorrow thou 
shalt bring forth children." Men, as usual, took the matter 
more lightly, and even jested about their wives' "great 
bellies." A husband accepted the inevitable when his wife 
died in childbed. Sadly he said, "God's will be done," 
mourned briefly, and went forth to seek a new wife. 

Nell was not alone in her tribulation. Somewhere in her 
shadowy background were her mother and sister and many 
friends. When her time came upon her she went through 
the customary procedure. An expectant mother "lay in" 
at home, in a room tightly closed against the dangers of 
fresh air and well filled with female friends and relatives. 
These took turns walking her up and down the room as 

Fruitful Interlude 107 

long as she was able; the attending physician bled her at 
intervals; and the midwife made frequent use of glysters 
and syringes. Tough-fibred Nell endured this treatment 
and survived. On May 14 or 15 she was "brought to bed 
of a boy— the King's bastard." She named him Charles. 

If the King was happy at the birth of his seventh illegiti- 
mate son he gave no sign of his pleasure. Of course his 
mind was on weighty aifairs, and a new baby was hardly 
a novelty to him. From May 1 6 to June 2 he was at Dover 
whither he had posted to meet his beloved sister, Henrietta, 
Duchess of Orleans, whom he had not seen for nine years. 
Married to a half -impotent, jealous madman, poor Hen- 
rietta found little joy in her life, and the one brief trip to 
England, which she was permitted to make only because 
King Louis commanded, was the high point of her life. 
However, she had not come for pleasure only; she brought 
with her a treaty so secret that the noisy Duke of Buck- 
ingham, Chief Minister though he was, could not be trusted 
with its provisions. 

King Louis XIV had long believed himself divinely ap- 
pointed to rule all Europe, to colonize the new lands be- 
yond the Atlantic, and to bring heretics back to the safety 
of the mother church. The Spanish Netherlands, o\\'ned 
by a rotting empire, were irresistibly tempting to his gen- 
erals. He saw himself as the logical successor to the Spanish 
throne, ruling France, Spain, Flanders, and Holland. Onlv 
one obstacle kept him from realizing his dreams: stubborn, 
Protestant England and its slippery King. 

Louis' foreign policy was always worked out ^^'ith one 
eye cocked on King Charles. His ambassadors were in- 
structed to omit no slightest item about the doings of the 

io8 Nell Gnjoyn: Royal Mistress 

English Court in their reports; Louis wanted to know all 
about his cousin's travels, dogs, horses, mistresses, and serv- 
ants. Every possible way of influencing Charles was tried, 
from bribing his councillors to managing his mistresses. 
The King of England must be persuaded either to stay out 
of continental affairs, leaving France with a free hand, or 
to join with France and share the loot. 

It was with alacrity, then, that Louis adopted Henrietta's 
"grand design." The duchess, a sincere Catholic and a lov- 
ing sister, desired above all things to bring her brother 
Charles into the CathoHc fold (James, Duke of York, had 
long been a Catholic) and to see an enduring alliance be- 
tween England and France. The cynical Kings used her as 
their innocent mediary; Louis seeking to further his own 
grand design of conquest, Charles, in desperate need of 
money, as usual, wanting to line his pockets with French 
gold. The duchess had her idealistic triumph; Charles got 
his money; and Louis was left holding the empty bag. On 
May 2 2, Charles signed a document in which he prom- 
ised, first, to join France in a war against Holland, receiv- 
ing a subsidy of some £225,000 a year while hostilities 
lasted, and, second, to declare himself a Roman Catholic 
whenever the time seemed ripe. For carrying out this 
promise he was to get £150,000. The propitious moment 
never came. But war with Holland was already in the air; 
Charles knew quite well that his imperious Parliament 
would insist on it; he would have to pay the cost; and 
Louis' subsidy would be a very handy aid. 

While Nell was nursing her first-born and finding every 
day new resemblances to his father, the royal sire was 
happily flirting with one of his sister's Maids of Honor, 

Fruitful Interlude 109 

Louise de Perroncour de Keroualle, daughter of a poor 
but noble Breton cavalier. Twenty-one years old (a year 
older than Nell), Louise was a baby-faced brunette with 
an air of surprised innocence. Originally placed in the 
duchess's household by her family in hopes that King 
Louis might take a liking to her, she was outshone by a 
colleague, Louise de la Valliere, who became the King's 
mistress. Disappointed, de Keroualle engaged in an in- 
trigue with the Comte de Sault, an affair which tarnished 
her reputation but had no effect on her look of innocence. 
When the duchess was preparing to return to France, King 
Charles suggested that he leave the gentle Breton with him 
as a "jewel" for remembrance. Louise blushed prettily, but 
the duchess refused; she was responsible, she said, to the 
girl's parents. 

Three weeks later the duchess died suddenly at Paris. 
King Charles was not the only one stricken with grief. For 
years Buckingham had adored the duchess with one seg- 
ment of his highly divisible heart. Partly to console him, 
partly to keep him out of mischief, the King sent him on a 
mission of condolence to Henrietta's husband, the Duke of 
Orleans, and threw dust in his eyes with the details of 
another secret treaty which Buckingham could negotiate 
all by himself— a fake designed to conceal the real treaty 
signed at Dover. Buckingham set forth in July accom- 
panied by Buckhurst, Sedley, and other wits well qualified 
to "instruct and civilize fair France." 

The great duke carried out his missions with his usual 
flamboyance, and on September 15, leaving France much 
improved, he started his return trip. With him he carried 
many rich presents from King Louis— including a pension 

no Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

for his mistress, Lady Shrewsbury— and Louise de Ke- 
roualle, picked up he never quite knew how. (It was 
French Ambassador Colbert's idea.) The flighty duke got 
his charge safely to Dieppe, but he promptly forgot her 
and took ship, leaving her to chew her fingernails for the 
next ten days. Then Ralph iMontagu, the English ambas- 
sador, forwarded her to England where she was promptly 
registered among the Queen's Maids of Honor. She never 
forgave Buckingham. 

Meanwhile very little had happened to Nell. Sometime 
that summer, the King, moved by her pleadings or by his 
own impulse, set her up in a small house near the eastern 
end of Pall Mall, just a few doors from Suffolk Street 
where Moll Davis lived. Nell's was one of the poorest 
dwellings on the street, rated at only sixteen shillings a 
year taxes. When someone asked her why she moved from 
her "good apartment in Lincoln's Inn Fields to worse near 
Whitehall," she replied with typical impudence that "she 
had but one good friend in the world and she loved to get 
as near him as she could." Her good friend did nothing 
more for her. She lived in a rented house and her living 
costs were paid; his generosity went no further. 

In all the tangle of intrigue about the throne there was 
no place for Nell. Lady Castlemaine, no longer the King's 
bed-mate, was amusing herself with a succession of lovers. 
Henry Jermyn, a courtier (1668), had been succeeded by 
Charles Hart, the actor (1669), who in turn had given 
way to Jacob Hall, a rope-dancer (1670). But in spite of 
her known infidelities, Castlemaine was rich, imperious, 
and so powerful with the King that on August 2 3 he had 
created her Baroness Nonsuch, Countess of Southampton, 

Fruitful Interlude 1 1 1 

and Duchess of Cleveland. Then there was Moll Davis, 
still childless but beautiful and promising, with her fine 
house, jewels, and her own coach. And now came the new 
pretender, Louise de Keroualle, with apartments in White- 
hall where the King visited her daily. She had been told 
that "the more a woman pretended to virtue and chastity" 
the more the King^s heart would be inflamed. Therefore 
she appeared "with so much seeming modesty that the 
fond King believed her an angel." 

Nell was not being treated like the others "with the 
decencies of a mistress," but rather as if she were only a 
common prostitute— stuck off in a corner of Pall Mall 
and ignored. She wanted her son acknowledged, and she 
craved dignities and pensions for herself. But the King did 

No one doubted that little Charles was his son. Nell was 
always a one-man woman; she had taken her lovers in 
series, never in multiple. But all the King's other children 
were half -royal, half -gentle. The fact that young Charles, 
begotten on a commoner, was half -royal, half -base, posed 
an interesting problem. Moreover, it was the King's na- 
ture to avoid commitments, to put off decisions with kind 
words and vague promises, to move only when compelled. 
Lady Castlemaine could bring all kinds of pressures to 
bear; Moll Davis had behind her the power of Colonel 
Howard and his numerous brothers, sons of the Earl of 
Berkshire; Louise de Keroualle was backed by the French 
ambassador, the French faction at Court, and King Louis 
himself. Nell Gwyn had only her infant son. 

She had advisers in her dilemma, such friends, for ex- 
ample, as the Earl of Rochester, who proved himself to be 

112 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

(in his own words) "a good pimp." But she had only two 
alternatives worth considering. One, to stay where she was, 
live on crumbs dropped from the tables of more successful 
courtesans, and patiently plead her cause, was utterly for- 
eign to her head-long nature. The other was to put pres- 
sure on the King in the only way she could. In December 
she did something for which there was no precedent among 
royal mistresses— she went back to work. 


A Lady 


I 6 '] - I 6 'J I 



ELL'S SECOND RETURN to the King's Com- 
pany was much happier than her first. This time she was 
heartily welcome; the players could profit from her 
notoriety as the mother of a royal bastard. Although she 
was totally unsuited for the part, they promptly assigned 
her the leading role in Dryden's new two-part play, The 
Conquest of Granada, then in rehearsal, and the playwright 
whipped up a boldly topical epilogue, apologizing for the 
delay of his long-promised drama and ending with an in- 
delicate reference to Nell: 

Think him not duller for the year's delay; 

He was prepared, the women were away, 

And men without their parts can seldom play. 

If they through sickness seldom did appear, 

Pity the virgins of each theatre, 

For at both houses 'twas a sickly year. 

And pity us, your servants, to whose cost 

In one such sickness nine whole months were lost! 

In addition Dryden wrote a prologue designed to make the 
most of Nell's small stature and her skill at mimicking the 
"motions and carriage of a spark." Eight months earlier 
the Duke's Company had presented a comedy before the 
King, the Duchess of Orleans, and their followers at Dover. 
The low comedian, Nokes, poked fun at the extreme French 


ii6 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

fashions by wearing a remarkable broad-brimmed hat, an 
abbreviated coat, and a very wide belt; he looked like a 
dressed-up ape. The joke had proved so successful that 
Nokes had repeated it several times. 

When the first part of The Conquest of Granada was 
presented late in December, Nell swaggered on the stage 
in boy's clothes, wearing a hat the circumference of a cart- 
wheel, a short coat, and a very wide belt. The audience 
roared with laughter and applause. Then said Nell, 

This jest was first of t'other house's making, 

And, five times tried, has never failed of taking; 

For 'twere a shame a poet should be killed 

Under the shelter of so broad a shield. 

This is that hat whose very sight did win ye 

To laugh and clap as though the devil were in ye. 

As then for Nokes, so now I hope you'll be 

So dull to laugh once more for love of me. 

The audience had to be content with one laugh; there was 
no intentional comedy in the play and no scope for Nell's 
talents— no wit-combats, horseplay, songs, or dances for 
her. She played Almahide, the chaste, high-minded heroine 
who loved the hero Almanzor (Charles Hart again), yet, 
true to her promise and the dictates of honor, married King 
Boabdelin at last. In the second part of the play (presented 
on January 9, 167 1), Almahide was the very spirit of 
honor. Loving Almanzor passionately, she resisted his 
absent-minded attempts at seduction and refused even to 
think of crowning his joys until after her husband was 
slain, at the end of the play. Then she insisted on a year of 
decent widowhood. No, Almahide was not exactly Nell's 

A Lady of Pleasure 1 1 7 

The Conquest of Granada was played at Court on Feb- 
ruary 10 and 1 1. Shortly thereafter Nell left the stage for 
good. King Charles was not a sensitive man, and certainly 
he was not niggardly with his mistresses, but no one enjoys 
questioning glances, lifted eyebrows, and sly allusions. It 
was incredible that the mother of a royal bastard would 
return to the stage— actually work for a living— of her own 

The good-natured King made his usual large promises 
for the future, but this time, as earnest of his intentions, 
he started negotiations for the leasehold of the house Nell 
was to live in for the rest of her life. This one was also in 
Pall Mall, on the south side of the street, a quarter of a 
mile west of the mean little place in which she had been 
living, and very close to St. James's Palace, the Duke of 
York's residence. At its western end Pall Mall was a \^dde, 
dignified street, shaded by elm trees and bordered by hand- 
some brick dwellings. No one could ask for a more aris- 
tocratic location. 

In effect, Nell was now an acknowledged mistress. 
Young Charles was not yet legally recognized as the King's 
son, and she herself still had no source of income save the 
elastic and often thin purse held by Chiffinch. But now she 
had learned how to squeeze that purse, which, for all she 
knew, was inexhaustible. Her future was tinged with gold. 
At the moment, however, she needed (and got) new fur- 
niture to fill the spacious rooms she w^ls about to acquire. 

The new house was fine enough for an earl— in fact, an 
earl had been living in it. It was a three-storv brick man- 
sion with a frontage of thirty-three and a half feet on Pall 
Mall. At the back its grounds extended south to the wall 

1 18 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

of St. James's Park. From the rear windows or from a ter- 
race against the garden wall, one could look down into the 
Royal Gardens, watch "the King walking in the Park with 
a great crowd of his idle people about him," and, through 
the green mist of trees, catch glimpses of the towers and 
gables of Whitehall, half a mile away. Originally built by 
the Earl of St. Albans, a right noble promoter who devel- 
oped the entire section north of the Park, the house was 
leased by the King for a term of forty-nine years at the 
cost of some £1,400. That is to say, the rent was paid in 
advance; after forty-nine years the house returned to its 
owner; meanwhile the leaseholder was to keep it in repair 
at his own cost. Nell moved into the mansion some time 
in February, but the formal transfer of title did not take 
place until April i, when the latest leaseholder, Nicolas 
Leake, Earl of Scarsdale, assigned the property to the 
King's agent, George Hewitt, who in turn assigned it to 

On March 2 the King strolled through St. James's Park 
with precise Mr. Evelyn and stopped in the Royal Gardens 
for a chat with his new neighbor. Evelyn's face burned as. 
he was forced to listen to "a very familiar discourse be- 
tween [the King] and Mrs. Nelly, as they called an im- 
pudent comedian, she looking out of her garden on a 
terrace at the top of the wall, and [His Majesty] standing 
on the green walk under it." He was "heartily sorry at this 
scene." He was sorrier still when the King sauntered on to 
visit the Duchess of Cleveland (at Berkshire House, across 
Pall Mall from St. James's Palace), "another lady of pleas- 
ure and curse of our nation." 

The opinions of John Evelyn and his ilk mattered noth- 

A Lady of Pleasure 1 1 9 

ing to Nell. When she took possession of her new prop- 
erty she moved a large step up in the social world. Except 
to prigs and precisions she was no longer *'an impudent 
comedian"; to her friends she was "Mrs. Nelly," to all 
others, "Madam Gwyn." Tradesmen doifed caps and be- 
sought her custom, knowing that the King would pay. 
Minor officials fawned upon her, and even great lords put 
on a measure of compelled politeness. The King's favor 
was a magic cloak about her slender shoulders. 

Not content with the original, now living in Pall Mall, 
the King ordered a facsimile of Nell to hang among his 
trophies. Some time that spring she sat for the fashionable 
portrait painter. Sir Peter Lely, "naked, leaning on a bed 
with her child." While she posed, the King made frequent 
visits to the artist's studio, where Nell "was naked on pur- 
pose." The portrait remained in the royal collection until 
the flight of James II in 1689, when John Sheffield, Earl of 
Mulgrave, took it for his own delectation and managed to 
conceal it from posterity. 

Nell was quick to make friends with her neighbors in 
Pall Mall and in the still newer residential section to the 
north, St. James's Square. Some of them were her pro- 
fessional colleagues— "great men's misses"— Cleveland, 
Lady Greene, and Mary Knight, for example, and the 
Countess of Shrewsbury, who now lived in King Street, 
just off St. James's Square. (Four years later Moll Davis 
moved to a house in the square itself.) Nell's immediate 
neighbors were Edward Griffin on the ^^'est, a Groom of 
the Bedchamber to the Duke of York, and on the east the 
widowed Frances Weston, Countess of Portland. 

In general Nell was accepted by the rank and file of the 

I20 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

Court. When she strolled across the Park to Whitehall and 
entered the Palace gates where the yeomen of the guard 
stood sentinel in their scarlet coats, breeches, and velvet 
bonnets, there were many courtiers who greeted her with 
pleasure. Her wild humor and unfailing good spirits made 
her a host of friends. After all, there w^as not much dif- 
ference between the people she had known in Covent 
Garden and the habitues of Whitehall. The gentry bathed 
oftener (sometimes as much as twice a year) and used per- 
fume freely between times; their manners were more pol- 
ished, but their morals were somewhat worse than those 
of Covent Garden; their speech was more grammatical, 
but it was often larded with oaths and obscenities worthy 
of rogues in a bawdyhouse. Nell was quite at home with 

There were, of course, certain sour politicians who re- 
fused to accept her. One of the King's ministers, the Earl 
of Arlington, told the French ambassador that "it was well 
for the King's good servants that his Majesty should have 
a fancy for Mademoiselle Keroualle, who was not of an 
evil disposition and was a lady. It was better to have deal- 
ings with her than with lewd and bouncing orange-girls 
and actresses, of whom no man could take the measure." 
Some elegant ladies, too, were offended by the admission 
of an ex-orange-girl into their society. Mary Villiers, 
Dowager Duchess of Richmond (Buckingham's sister), 
complained to the King that "she could not abide to con- 
verse with Nell and the rest of that gang." The King 
retorted that "those he lay with were fit company for the 
greatest woman in the land." Usually the grand es dames 
talked about Nell behind her back; remarks made to her 

A Lady of Pleasure 1 2 1 

face were returned with interest. Once Mrs. Kirke, wife 
of George Kirke, Keeper of Whitehall Palace, called Nell 
"whore" to her face. Nell replied that if anyone else had 
called her so she would not have minded, but "it afflicted 
her to be called so" by one who had been "an old notorious 
whore even before whoring was in fashion." 

Certainly Nell never pretended to be anything else, and 
one famous story about her, although it rests on no re- 
liable authority, is at least in character. "The famous Nell 
Gwyn, stepping one day, from a house where she had 
made a short visit, into her coach, saw a great mob assem- 
bled, and her footman all bloody and dirty. The fellow, 
being asked by his mistress the reason of his being in that 
condition, answered, 'I have been fighting, madam, with 
an impudent rascal who called your ladyship a whore.' 
'You blockhead,' replied Mrs. Gwyn, 'at this rate you must 
fight every day of your life. Why, you fool, all the world 
knows it.' 'Do they?' cried the fellow in a muttering voice, 
after he had shut the coach-door; 'they shant call me a 
whore's footman for all that.' " 

Even with her friends Nell was blunt. In May she grave 
a birthday party for the King. Lady Shrewsbury heard of 
it and hinted to the King that she would like to be invited. 
Charles passed the request on to Nell, who refused it, say- 
ing, "one whore at a time was enough for His Majest\\" 

That spring and summer Nell alone seemed to be 
"enough for His Majesty." The Duchess of Cleveland— 
the former Lady Castlemaine— had been given her release 
by the King with only one condition: "hve so for the 
future as to make the least noise you can, and I care not 
who you love." She took him at his word. After her affair 

122 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

with Jacob Hall, the rope dancer, she became the mistress 
of handsome Will Wycherley, whose first play, Love in 
a Wood, was produced in March, 1671. One of Wycher- 
ley's songs in the play ended with the interesting assertion, 

Great wits and great braves 

Have always a punk to their mother! 

Playing delicately on this axiom, the duchess first attracted 
Wycherley by calling to him as she drove by in her coach, 
"You, Wycherley, are a son of a whore," at the same time 
laughing heartily. The flattered "great wit" fell in love 
with her on the spot. 

Some time during Lent word was brought to the King 
that the Duchess of Cleveland was sleeping with Wycher- 
ley at the Pall Mall house of Mary Knight. Concerned 
about possible scandal, the King w^alked in one morning 
unannounced, climbed the stairs, and on the landing met 
Wycherley, "muffled in his cloak." The two passed each 
other without a word. Finding the duchess in bed, the 
King demanded an explanation. "It is the beginning of 
Lent," said the duchess, "and I retired hither to perform 
my devotions." "Very likely," said Charles, "and that was 
your confessor I met on the stairs." 

If Cleveland was no more to Charles than the remem- 
brance of things past, Keroualle was the tantalizing prom- 
ise of things to come. She was playing a clever game with 
him, but her continued coyness was driving him frantic. 
She had no intention of yielding her precious virginity 
until she had the King safely and permanently in her toils. 
At one time she would listen to his wooing in a melting 
mood, at another she would coldly remind him that he was 

A Lady of Pleasure 1 2 3 

a married man, and urge him to remain true to his vows. 
The anxious French ambassador pleaded with her to give 
in. King Louis wanted to know how long the "childish- 
looking girl" would continue to hold out. King Charles 
redoubled his amorous efforts. 

For the moment Nell Gwyn was the substance of things 
present. It was a relief for the King to turn from the prud- 
ish Keroualle to the frankly wanton Nell, who stimulated 
his lechery and satisfied it too. Moll Davis had some share 
of the monarch's attentions, but in a conflict between the 
two actresses, Nell always won. Watching the unequal 
contests, the gossips explained Nell's success by a wild 
story. Once (they said) when it was Moll's "turn to he 
with the King," Nell invited her to supper and put a pow- 
erful purgative in her food— with results inhibitory to Eros. 

But Nell had no need for drugs or charms. For some six 
months she was, more truly than any of her competitors, 
the King's mistress. After years of slow climbing, the tri- 
umphant little comedian had reached the heights, and now 
lay basking in the royal sunshine. In his own strange way 
the King loved her (even while pursuing Keroualle), and 
she gave him her heart without reserve. Now, in the 
halcyon days, Nell bloomed with the coming of spring— 
and by summer she was fruitful, too. 

In these days she could well afford to be friendly and 
sympathetic with Lady Shrewsbury. Early in March Buck- 
ingham's mistress had borne him a son, her third— she had 
two by her husband— but Buckingham's first. (Bucking- 
ham's duchess, like the Queen, was barren). The great 
duke was wild with happiness; in a foolish attempt to legiti- 
mize the infant he (]^ave it a family title. Earl of Oxford. 

124 ^^^^ Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

A few days later the child died, and Buckingham, extrav- 
agant in his grief as in his joy, buried his son in Westmin- 
ster Abbey with almost royal pomp and ceremony. Even 
the most hardened libenines were affronted, not by his 
immorahty but by his pubhc defiance of good form. 

Although Nell was acceptable enough to courtiers, to 
the commonalty she was just another grievance. In De- 
cember, 1670, a proposal had been made in Parliament to 
levy taxes on the theatres. When the Court party opposed 
the motion on the ground that "the players were the King's 
servants and a part of his pleasure," Sir John Coventry, a 
grim member of the opposition, rose to inquire "whether 
the King's pleasure lay among the men or the women that 
acted?" "Was it not known," he continued, "that the King 
had two stage harlots, Nell Gwyn and Moll Davis, in 

Such impertinence could not go unpunished. Some of 
the gentlemen of the King's Guards (a select company 
commanded by the Duke of Monmouth) decided to play 
a little joke on Coventry by way of avenging the insult to 
the King. On the night of December 2 1 they waylaid him 
near his house in Suffolk Street, fell upon him in a body, 
wrapped him tightly in his own cloak, and slit his nose. 
The House of Commons, officially notified of the affair on 
January 9, 1671, failed to appreciate the humor and for 
two months vainly sought to bring the pranksters to jus- 
tice. The only result of their fury was the so-called "Co- 
ventry Act" against cutting and maiming. 

For some reason Nell was blamed as the instigator of the 
attack. The anonymous author of a broadside satire, "The 
Haymarket Hectors" (1671), asserted that Nell, angered 

A Lady of Pleasure 1 2 5 

by Coventry's insult, had borrowed the King's Guards for 
her instruments of vengeance. The poet warned: 

Beware, all ye Parliamenteers, 
How each of his voice disposes, 

Bab May in the Commons, C. Rex in the Peers, 
Sit telling your fates on your noses, 
And decree, at the mention of every slut, 
Whose nose shall continue, and whose shall be cut. 
If the sister of Rose [Nell Gwyn] 
Be a whore so anointed 

That the Parliament's nose 
Must for her be disjointed. 
Then should you but name the prerogative 

whore, [Cleveland] 
How the bullets would whistle, the cannons would roar! 

The many-headed multitude had nothing against Nell 
as a personality or because of her unconventional way of 
life. But she was known now as the King's mistress— it 
was to "Nelly" that he sauntered, when he "should be at 
prayers"— and to the popular mind she was another symbol 
of the waste, extravagance, and mismanagement of the 
Stuart reign. For a year or two she bore the brunt of the 
libellous attacks. (Retiring Moll Davis was little known, 
and coy Keroualle was to get her share later.) A satire 
published in May, 1671, "Upon the Proroguing of Parlia- 
ment," was in part a jibe at Nell's second pregnancy- 
Dame Rumor had quick ears— and a lamentation over the 
vast sums supposedly spent on the "dunghill wench." 

"Nell's in again, we hear," wrote the poet, speaking as 
a member of Parliament. "Methinks we might have met 
again," at least to provide funds for babv clothes, for 

126 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

our wont has been 
Never to miss a sessions 'gainst lying-in. 

At such times, he claimed, rumors of war were always 
raised, and Parliament was asked to vote money for de- 
fense, money which was diverted "to keep the jade." 

And ten to one, before the spring be over, 

Our cavalry must march again to Dover, 

To guard the shore against the Dutch and French, 

When all this means but new supplies for wench. 

The barrage continued well into the following years. 
After a young actor, Richard Bell, lost his life in the burn- 
ing of the King's Theatre on January 25, 1672, a ballad 
writer (or his printer) reflected on Nell with the couplet. 

He cries just judgment, and wishes when poor Bell 
Rung out his last, 't had been the stage's kNell. 

And later that year a prose satire, "Questions and Answers 
from Garroway's Coffee-House," under the heading "Ad- 
vertisement for a sale of choice goods," offered "Twenty- 
four ells of Nell Gwyn's virginity in three pieces, i yellow, 
2 black, full yard broad and a little better, at 3 s. per yard, 
to advance 2 d. each bidding." French yellow was the color 
of passion; black, of course, w^as the symbol of sin. 

As an experienced actress Nell was used to insults, and 
now she could well afford to overlook them. Unofficially 
she was a member of the King's Court, serenely superior 
to the yapping of journalists and politicians. Early in the 
summer of 1671 the King took his Court (including the 
Queen, the moral Keroualle, and a host of Maids of 
Honor) to the old medieval castle and town of Windsor, 

A Lady of Pleasure 127 

twenty miles up the river from London. He installed Nell 
and little Charles in a convenient town house just a step 
from the castle. 

At Windsor Nell had a happy reunion with her old 
friend and colleague, Margaret Hughes, whose lover. 
Prince Rupert, lived in the castle as its constable, spending 
his days in chemical and metallurgical research. Unfortu- 
nately for the peace of the town, there were too many 
hotheaded young men with too little to do. One June night 
Mrs. Hughes' brother and one of the King's servants dis- 
puted "whether Mrs. Nelly or Mrs. Hughes was the hand- 
somer now at Windsor." Tempers flared, swords were 
drawn, and Mr. Hughes was neatly and fatally perforated. 
No blame attached to Nell, of course, and both Prince 
Rupert and his mistress remained her good friends. 

Except for this episode it was a happy summer for Nell, 
in some ways the peak of the year. There was beautiful 
forest land to ride in, the cool river for boating and fishing 
parties, and evenings of jollity with friends. Often the King 
dropped in after a day's hunting or a trip to London, and 
stayed after the other guests had departed. Nell knew, of 
course, about his infatuation for Keroualle, but she was 
supremely self-confident. 

Her confidence was justified that summer when a new 
candidate for the King's bed came out of Ireland. Lady 
Alice Clanbrassil, the beautiful young wife of Henry 
Hamilton, Earl of Clanbrassil, gained her experience as the 
mistress of John, Lord Berkeley of Stratton, Lord Lieu- 
tenant of Ireland from 1670 to 1672. The liaison was 
known to everybody, including her complacent husband. 
In the spring of 1671, Lords Berkeley and Arran, con- 

128 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

spiring with a number of Irish gentry, decided to send the 
seductive countess to England, there "to catch His Majes- 
ty" and engage him for the Irish interest. On June lo the 
Berkeleys and Clanbrassils arrived in London. 

Unfortunately for the plot, immediately upon his arrival 
Lord Berkeley was mixed up in a quarrel with another 
nobleman, and in the resultant confusion mismanaged 
"Lady Clanbra's" affairs. For three months she shuttled 
back and forth between London, Windsor and New- 
market, hoping for a chance "to trip up Nell Gwyn's 
heels," but the King was preoccupied with Keroualle and 
satisfied with Nell, and the lady's unskilful managers had 
small influence at Court. She herself cared little; dazzled 
by the delights of London she pursued a number of eligible 
gallants and even became involved for a time with that 
wildest of rakes, Harry KiUigrew. Early in October the 
disgruntled Irish went back to Dublin, dragging reluctant 
"Lady Clanbra" along. 

The Court returned to London toward the end of July, 
and the King rode off on a s(^Ties of progresses or official 
tours in the eastern counties. In September he went as 
usual to Newmarket, the little tacing town on the wind- 
swept heath sixty miles north of London, where the stables 
were all "wainscotted and sculptured and the horses fed 
on new-laid eggs and Spanish wine." All the jolly courtiers 
descended on the town and spent their days and nights 
(said Evelyn) "racing, dancing, feasting, and revelling, 
more resembling a luxurious Jid abandoned rout than a 
Christian Court." Nell Gwyn was there, of course, and 
the Duke of Buckingham, who had brought along "that 
impudent woman, the Countess of Shrewsbury, and his 

A Lady of Pleasure 129 

band of fiddlers, &c." Everybody but Evelyn had a good 

The center of interest at Newmarket was the now- 
famous Louise de Keroualle, who arrived on October 4 
in the King's own coach, attended by Lord ArHngton 
and the impatient French ambassador. She was received 
"in great state" and taken to Arlington's great country 
mansion, Euston, near Newmarket. The King was Arling- 
ton's guest nearly every day and often spent the night. 
Now was the time for Keroualle's triumph; she had gradu- 
ally reduced the King to such a state that he was willing 
to promise anything. One night in the middle of October, 
after Keroualle had spent the whole day in "an undress" 
(without stays and in negligee), and Charles had lavished 
a world of "fondness and toying" on her, she went to bed 
with him. The result was apparent in just nine months. 

All the good gossips but Evelyn (who was also a guest 
at Euston) agreed that the bedding was preceded bv a 
mock marriage; that five or sLx people took the couple into 
a room "where one in the habit of a priest mumbled over 
something," and that afterwards the King and his new 
mistress were put to bed with the usual improper cere- 
monies. One gossip who wrote a "Secret Historv" of 
Charles's reign argued that the marriage was valid because 
"the law allows all men one wife, and therefore a king, 
who is above law, may surely have t\^ o." He asserted that 
Keroualle considered herself married and that some time 
later, "upon some discourse that brought it out," she cried, 
"Me no whore! If me thought me were a whore me would 
cut mine throat." It is certainly true that after that night 
at Euston Keroualle behaved like a wife, but she \\'as never 

130 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

foolish enough to mistake a mock ceremony for the reaUty. 

The French faction at Court was jubilant. Ambassador 
Colbert promptly sent a courier with the good news to 
Louis XIV, who in reply ordered him to present the royal 
congratulations to Mademoiselle de Keroualle. "There is 
every prospect," wrote Colbert, "that she will hold long 
what she has conquered." He was an excellent prophet. 

When the Court returned to Whitehall in November, 
the besotted King continued to revel in the charms of his 
newest mistress, and his other ladies were forgotten. So 
long as her income continued, the Duchess of Cleveland 
cared not a particle. She had not yet discarded Wycherley, 
but she was acquiring a new gallant, young Jack Churchill, 
the future great Duke of Marlborough. Moll Davis merely 
settled farther back into quiet obscurity. The Queen gave 
up the struggle for good and moved to Somerset House 
on the bank of the Thames a mile to the east, coming less 
and less often to Whitehall. 

On Christmas Day, 167 1, in her house in Pall Mall, Nell 
gave birth to her second son. She named him James in com- 
pliment to the Duke of York. There were no bonfires to 
celebrate the birth of the King's eighth illegitimate son. 





I 6 "] 2 - I 6 ^ 4 



HE NEW YEAR came in with feasts and revels at 
Whitehall, even though at the Navy Office preparations 
for war with the Dutch went on at high speed. This time 
there would be no inconclusive treaties of peace; Holland 
was to be overrun and wiped out of existence. According 
to plan France prepared an army of 120,000 men for in- 
vasion by land. England's task was to destroy the Dutch 
fleet and land an expeditionary force in the Lowlands. 
Caught between the jaws of the pincers, Holland could 
not long resist. The allies gloated as they contemplated the 
spoils. France was to get the lion's share of territory; Eng- 
land was to have four islands, the town of Sluys, and all 
of Holland's fishing rights and overseas trade. It was a 
thoroughly piratical project and the two cynical kings 
carried it out with the Jolly Roger flying high. They made 
impossible demands upon the Dutch, refused even to wait 
for replies, and finally made war without excuse or overt 

But these were matters for ministers and rulers; on the 
surface life was peaceful and little men went their dailv 
rounds. When Nell came back to Court in Januarv she 
found everyone in high spirits. The Duke of Bucking- 
ham's burlesque of heroic plays. The Rehearsal (first pro- 
duced on December 7, 167 1), was still a popular subject 
of conversation. Lacy's imitation of John Drvden— as 


134 ^^^^ Givyn: Royal Mistress 

"Poet Bayes," the villain of the piece— was something to 
remember. Buckingham had coached Lacy in Dryden's 
hesitating speech and had dressed him in Dryden's clothes. 
Then (said the gossips) he and his cronies had escorted 
Dryden to the theatre and had sat with him in a box so 
they could watch him squirm. The farce was a huge suc- 
cess. Its fame even reached France, and King Louis hinted 
to Ambassador Colbert that to be in fashion he too should 
write a play. 

As usual, the brilliant Buckingham, who, 

in the course of one revolving moon, 
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon, 

was also "all for women." Catching Nell alone one day in 
a private room at Whitehall, he made violent love to her. 
She had no objection to being kissed, but when he tried to 
take certain other liberties and rumpled her lace collar, 
she boxed his ears. 

Buckingham was at his zenith as a statesman at this time. 
As leader of the "Cabal" of ministers— so-called because 
of their initials: Clifford, Lord Treasurer; Arlington, Chief 
Secretary of State; Buckingham, Master of the Horse; 
Ashley (the famous Earl of Shaftesbury), Lord Chancel- 
lor; and Lauderdale, Secretary for Scotland— he was, in 
effect, Prime Minister. Of course he had not yet come in 
conflict with Louise de Keroualle— "Carwell" to the ir- 
reverent—who was willing to let him have his way so long 
as his policies agreed with the French interest. But she had 
no love for him; she had never forgotten her ten days of 
agonized waiting at Dieppe. She was "infinitely in favor" 
and rapidly becoming "prime mistress." 

The Rival Ladies 135 

The Duchess of Cleveland had lost all interest in pohtics. 
By bullying the King she continued to amass wealth, and 
she drove about the streets of dazzled London in a magnif- 
icent coach with eight horses. Ensign Churchill was still 
her lover, and there was evidence that she was "with child 
by him." As a reward she laid the foundation of his for- 
tune with a handsome cornerstone of £5,000. However, 
she was already casting amorous leers at another ambitious 
young man, John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave. 

Keroualle's hold over the King was not due to her 
beauty; her eyes were small and slightly a-squint, and her 
"baby-face" was marred by a look of petulance. More- 
over she was not, like Lady Cleveland, skilled in "all the 
tricks of Are tin ... to give pleasure," or, like Nell 
Gwyn, humorous and frankly sensual. In fact she had no 
humor at all, and au fond she was frigid. But she was a 
very cunning young woman who had studied her captive 
monarch and knew his every mood and fancy; she knew 
when to offer intelligent conversation on subjects political, 
economic and artistic (she was well schooled by the 
French Ambassador), and when to offer herself. She was 
a master at dissembling, and she had verv distinguished 

Although Nell was barely twenty-two, still fresh and 
attractive, she had two small babies to handicap her, and 
unfortunately she could not compare in education, polish, 
or craft with the cultured Keroualle. But she had no lack 
of friends to advise her. A small group of courtiers who 
were "the King's companions at most suppers in the week" 
—he dined in public state at high noon and supped in 
private at night— were Nell's friends, and their meeting 

136 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

place was often her house in Pall Mall. Among them 
were her old friends Harry Killigrew (sometimes known as 
''lying Killigrew"), Henry Savile, groom to the Duke of 
York, Henry Guy (Beck Marshall's whilom keeper), Cup- 
bearer to the Queen, Baptist May, Keeper of the Privy 
Purse, Lord Buckhurst and a recent protege, ribald Fleet- 
wood Shepherd, the Earls of Rochester and Mulgrave, 
and the Duke of Buckingham, three Gentlemen of the Bed- 
chamber to the King. 

Rochester was her most valued adviser. He and Nell 
were alike in their love of pleasure, and they were both 
interested in the stage. In 1672 Rochester was schooling 
his young mistress of the moment, Elizabeth Barry, not 
only in "the tricks of Aretin" of which he too was a 
master, but also in the formal gestures and tones of trage- 
dy. She became Nell's protege also, and a highly successful 
tragedian in spite of her mentors. 

Easily the leader of the Court wits, Rochester knew 
Whitehall inside and out, and he had a practical under- 
standing of the ways of men and women. He employed a 
footman who knew all the Court, equipped him with a 
sentinel's red coat and musket, and stationed him every 
night at the door of a different lady in Whitehall to see 
"who walked about and visited at forbidden hours." 
When he was well supplied with gossip, Rochester would 
retire to the country (where he kept his wife and chil- 
dren) and write vicious little satires. His philosophy was 
completely cvnical. He believed, as he wrote, that 

Those creatures are the wisest who attain 
By surest means the ends at which they aim. 

The Rival Ladies 137 

His advice to Nell followed with perfect logic: "Take 
your measures just contrary to your rivals, live in peace 
with all the world, and easily with the King. Never be so 
ill-natured to stir up his anger against others, but let him 
forget the use of a passion [anger] which is never to do 
you good. Cherish his love wherever it inclines, and be as- 
sured you can't commit greater folly than pretending to 
be jealous, but on the contrary, with hand, body, head, 
heart, and all the faculties you have, contribute to his 
pleasure all you can and comply with his desires through- 
out. And for new intrigues, so you be at one end, 'tis no 
matter which; make sport when you can, at other times 
help it." 

The pale, handsome young earl was very much in earn- 
est, and in the main Nell took his precepts to heart, al- 
though she was too impulsive and scatterbrained to adhere 
to a rigid plan. She supplied what Keroualle could not: 
good humor, broad jests, and bawdy entertainment. It was 
not long before the King was making his regular trips to 
Pall Mall again. As the author of "The Lady of Pleasure" 
wrote, Nell's function was to drive away the King's 

When he was dumpish, she would still be jocund, 
And chuck the royal chin of Charles the Second. 

Her success was attested by Bishop Burnet: "She acted 
all persons in so lively a manner and was such a constant 
diversion to the King that even a new mistress could not 
drive her away." 

But Nell could never resist an opportunity to poke fun 
at Keroualle, even at the risk of stirring up the King's 

138 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

anger, and ambition drove her to take the same measures 
as her rivals did. They all fought— with the King and each 
other— for wealth and honors for their children and them- 
selves. In this battle-royal Nell was hampered by the one 
fact which even the King found it difficult to overlook: 
no matter how much she put on "the lady of quality," she 
was base-born. 

Like any great lady she had her portrait painted that 
winter in the prevailing Arcadian mode, as a shepherdess. 
She wore a lace-edged smock, opened to show her left 
breast. A length of light-brown taffeta was draped over 
one shoulder and down across her lap. Lely painted her in 
a conventional pose, fondling the ear of a stuffed lamb 
with her left hand, while with her right she offered it a 
spray of flowers. She was still young looking and un- 
matronly, with the "blub" cheeks, full mouth, and small 
chin of Dryden's description. There was mischief in her 

War with Holland was declared on March 17, 1672. 
For a while it was a popular move in spite of the press 
gangs which roamed the streets seizing men for the Fleet. 
The destruction of its great rival would give England 
control of the seas and their rich trade lanes; everybody 
wanted to die for Lombard Street. The King's favorite 
son, the Duke of Monmouth, went abroad to help the 
French army, incidentally taking along a regiment of regu- 
lars. An army of volunteers prepared to invade Holland 
by sea (it never left England), and such periwigged fops 
as Lord Mulgrave became knights in shining armor. Buck- 
ingham, yearning to add to his many-leaved laurels, 

The Rival Ladies 139 

wanted to be commander-in-chief. His request was re- 
fused on the excellent ground that Lady Shrewsbury- 
would be unhappy if he was long absent. 

After the bloody and indecisive battle of Southwold 
Bay on May 28 (when Henry Savile was listed among 
the dead and deflated the rumor by publishing his eye- 
witness account of the fight) the pro-war sentiment ebbed 
rapidly. The armies of Louis XIV (aided by Monmouth) 
were rolling over the Netherlands with such ridiculous 
ease that Englishmen— even Buckingham— fretted and 
wondered if they were on the right side. The power of 
Catholic France began to look dangerous, and the Dutch 
were at least Protestants. By autumn, when the Dutch had 
opened their water-gates and let the sea in upon their land, 
resolving to "die in the last dyke," France and the w^ar 
were alike unpopular— except at Whitehall which flour- 
ished under warm showers of French gold. 

Intrigues and scandals went on at Whitehall, un- 
touched by war. On July 16, 1672, the Duchess of Cleve- 
land gave birth to a daughter, Barbara— not a Fitzroy. 
Even the great lady lacked the cheek to father her sLxth 
opus on the King. On July 29 Louise de Keroualle gave 
birth to a son, another Charles, and no one could doubt 
his paternity. Now the King had four sons named Charles; 
on occasion he was mildly confused. Keroualle pressed to 
have her boy acknowledged. She even argued that the 
King should legitimize him by marrying her. She saw no 
reason, she said, why the King, who was "Defender of 
the Faith" and head of the church, could not give himself 
a dispensation "to have two or three w'wqs at once." 

But at Whitehall as in the English Channel, victorv went 

140 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

to the ships with the greatest weight of metal; the Duchess 
of Cleveland had all the weaker vessels outgunned. In 
August her second son, nine-year-old Henry, was boosted 
to the peerage as Earl of Euston and immediately married 
to Lord Arlington's daughter, a five-year-old heiress. 
Cleveland's first son, Charles, was already Earl of South- 
ampton; her third was now called by courtesy Lord 
George Fitzroy. Within a few months she persuaded the 
King to grant "his dear and natural daughters, the Ladies 
Anne and Charlotte Fitzroy," the right to bear the royal 
arms ''in lozenge with a baton sinister ermine." Of course 
the duchess got new properties and pensions for herself. 
In the absence of Churchill, who had followed the heroic 
Duke of Monmouth to Flanders, she consoled herself w^th 
Lord Mulgrave. A year later it was falsely reported that 
she was "with child" by him. 

Although Nell could do nothing for her sons this year, 
she managed to get a pension of £100 a year for her sister 
Rose and her husband, Captain Cassels, and by her friend- 
ship with the King's ministers she was able to do a small 
favor for her neighbor, the Countess of Portland— "she 
procured her £1,000 out of the Exchequer." Keroualle 
prospered financially, but before she could have the full 
benefit of all the "gifts and honors" which King Charles 
was panting to bestow on her, she had to have King Louis' 
leave to become a British subject. This procedure took 
time. Meanwhile, in the heart of the winter of 1672-3, 
Queen Catherine was seriously ill, and Keroualle dreamed 
of wearing the crown. From morning till night she talked 
hopefully about the Queen's ailments. 

In the spring of 1673 English republicanism perked up 

The Rival Ladies 141 

its head, began to ask nasty questions about France and 
popery, and to cry out against arbitrary power. Parlia- 
ment worked off its wrath by passing the Test Act 
(March 29) which made it impossible for Roman Catholics 
to hold public office. Although the King jested that "he 
would purge his Court from all Catholics except his bar- 
ber, whom he meant to keep in despite of all their bills, 
for he was so well accustomed to his hand," he managed 
to get a special dispensation for the Queen to keep her 
CathoUc ladies-in-waiting, among them Cleveland and 

Protestant Nell was not disturbed by the Test Act, of 
course, but certain changes resulting from it affected her 
in time. For example, the Catholic Duke of York had to 
resign as Lord High Admiral; the admiralty was put into 
the hands of commissioners, and her old friend Samuel 
Pepys was made secretary. More important, the Cabal 
cracked wide open when Lord Treasurer Clifford gave 
up his post for his faith. (A few months later he com- 
mitted suicide.) In June a protege of Buckingham's, Sir 
Thomas Osborne, was appointed treasurer and vigorously 
set about reforming the royal budget. 

The mistresses w^orked harder than ever to line their 
purses before Osborne's new system could put an end to 
the old, profitable chaos. Much to the amusement of the 
Court, they fought each other tooth and nail. In July "a 
pleasant ridiculous story" was circulated— false, as it proved 
—that Cleveland and Keroualle, believing that the King 
had given Nell Gwyn £20,000, had invited her to supper 
at Berkshire House and, w^hile "they were drinking," had 
suddenly choked Nell with a napkin, "of which she is 

142 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

since dead." Fortunately the narrator could nail the lie; he 
had seen Mrs. Gwyn only "yester night in the Park." 

There was no reason for Keroualle to resort to violence. 
On July 25, 1673, the King gave her a thundering roll of 
honors, climaxed by the ducal coronet; she became at one 
stroke Baroness Petersfield, Countess of Farnham, and 
Duchess of Portsmouth. She celebrated her strawberry 
leaves with a ball and supper for the whole Court at Barn 
Elms, and for the next two weeks there were almost night- 
ly festivities and "treats" in her honor. 

Nell Gwyn was furious. She complained to the King 
about her own miserable state: her sons were unrecog- 
nized and had not even a surname; she herself had no title 
and no house of her own; the Pall Mall mansion was only 
a leasehold. Charles made his usual large promises: every- 
thing would be taken care of in due time, she would be a 
countess as soon as he could see "how the people will re- 
lish it"— carelessly he even specified a possible title. Coun- 
tess of Plymouth. Nell was not appeased. Forgetting 
Rochester's good advice and thinking to force the King's 
hand, she "got a patent drawn to be Countess of Ply- 
mouth" and took it to the Lord Keeper to be sealed. That 
official refused the patent and asked the King, who weak- 
ly admitted that he had been "but in jest" with Nell. 
Democratic as he was, it was hard for the King to take 
Nell's pretensions seriously. To add insult to injury, the 
very title she sought was granted that summer to Lady 
Greene's son, Charles, who became Earl of Plymouth. 
Nell remained a houseless commoner with two surname- 
less little boys. 

She had her small revenge on the new Duchess of Ports- 

The Rival Ladies 143 

mouth. One day Nell appeared at Whitehall dressed in 
"an exceeding rich suit of clothes." The duchess said 
smugly, "Nelly, you are grown rich, I believe, by your 
dress; why, woman, you are fine enough to be a queen." 
"You are entirely right, madam," said Nell, "and I am 
whore enough to be a duchess." 

Nell's angry mood continued into the autumn. Since 
the French subsidies proved wholly inadequate to pay for 
a costly war, the King's finances were in bad shape that 
year. He compensated his "chargeable ladies" by giving 
them warrants for goods out of ships captured from the 
Dutch. In September the new treasurer (Osborne, now 
Earl of Danby) put a stop to the practise, and "neither 
Madam Kerwell's nor the Duchess of Cleveland's nor 
Nell Gwyn's warrants would be accepted." The loss to 
the Duchess of Portsmouth was some £30,000, but King 
Louis came to her aid with the offer of his share in the 
next East India ship to be captured. Hopefully Nell asked 
King Charles for money. He replied quite honestly that 
he had none to give. "I will tell you how you shall never 
want," said the impudent comedian, "send the French in- 
to France again, set me on the stage again, and lock up 
your own cod-piece." 

It was sound advice; with a flash of wisdom Nell had 
hit off the sentiments of some millions of good citizens. 
Feeling against the Court was running high that autumn. 
To the popular mind the King, his ministers, and his mis- 
tresses were idle folk who delighted in rapes, riots, and 
Romanism. The honest English looked upon ^Vhitehall 
as a gilded brothel, and took Keroualle's promotion to the 
peerage as a personal insult. On October 19 they had a 

144 ^^^^ Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

new scandal to rage at when Moll Davis gave birth to a 
girl, Mary, the fourteenth and last of the King's natural 
children. It was even "a matter of some talk" later that 
month when Nell was visiting Chiffinch at his country 
house. Filberts, and the King chanced to dine there one 
day. There was widespread discontent with the govern- 
ment, and the Country (or Whig) Party in ParUament— 
republican, anti-French, and anti-Catholic— made political 
capital of every peccadillo. 

The King needed money to pay for more than mis- 
tresses; unless he was voted a subsidy by his faithful Com- 
mons he would be forced to withdraw from the war. But 
the Commons were in a truculent mood when Parliament 
met on October 20. Led by the Country Party, they be- 
gan by passing a resolution against Catholic Mary of Mo- 
dena, the Duke of York's second wife, whom he had 
recently married by proxy. Then they fell upon the al- 
liance with France, debated the iniquity of a standing 
army, railed at the growth of popery, moved against the 
King's ministers, and refused to even consider money bills 
until all their grievances had been righted. King Charles, 
still hoping for an appropriation which would free him 
from dependence on Louis XIV, was reluctant to pro- 
rogue Parliament, but the French Ambassador wanted a 
prorogation above all things. If the francophobes in Parlia- 
ment were not silenced, England might be swung from its 
alliance with France. At this juncture (according to a 
most remarkable fable) the Duchess of Portsmouth went 
into action. 

One night (says her anonymous biographer) she invited 
the King to "a costly banquet . . . with divers sorts of 

The Rival Ladies 145 

music and variety of liquors. The persons who composed 
the company had screwed their mirth and wit to the high- 
est pitch; all care and anxious thoughts were banished, 
and the night entirely dedicated to Bacchus and Venus." 
It was nearly dawn when the party ended, but the duchess 
refused to let the King go. She retired with him and "two 
other great ladies" into a private room. After a little dal- 
liance, the three ladies, complaining of the heat, disrobed, 
the King assisting in the process. "Not unlike the three 
goddesses, Juno, Pallas, and Venus before Paris, did those 
three naked ladies stand before the King, who was ravished 
with the sight, and examined every part about them with 
his own hands and eyes, with all imaginable curiosity." 

When his visual and tactile senses were sated, the four 
—with the ladies still draped only in their modesty— fell 
to playing Questions and Commands. "When it came to 
the ladies' turn to command, they commonly would im- 
pose upon the King the drinking of a glass of wine to 
each of their healths, to bear up his spirits." At last it be- 
came Portsmouth's turn after several rounds— His Majesty 
was now in a malleable condition. To her first Question— 
"Whether he would not be glad to govern absolutely with- 
out Parliament?"— there could be only one answer, yes. 
To her second— "Whom he thought the happiest monarch 
in the world?"— there could also be only one answer, Louis 
XIV, an absolute monarch. Thereupon, as her Command, 
Portsmouth ordered him to prorogue ParHament, and the 
very next morning he did so. It was really verv simple. 

The truth of the matter was that the King had to act 
quickly in order to save his ministry. On November 4, 
just as the House of Commons was proceeding to impeach 

146 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

the Earl of Lauderdale, King Charles prorogued Parlia- 
ment until January. But he was too late for one minister. 
The shifty Earl of Shaftesbury, long ago infected by the 
heresy of political dissent, was too far gone to be of further 
use. For some time, as the King well knew, he had been 
negotiating with the Country Party. On November 9 
King Charles dismissed him from his post as Lord Chan- 
cellor; grimly Shaftesbury put oil his judge's gown and 
took up the sword of opposition. Now only three of the 
old Cabal were left. 

As far as the House of Commons was concerned, Buck- 
ingham was the prime target. All through the rest of the 
year, the Country Party labored at preparing its case 
against him. In those critical months Nell Gwyn was loyal 
to the great duke and brought her small influence to his 
aid. Her friendship was not without self-interest, of 
course; so long as the Duchess of Portsmouth ruled at 
Whitehall, the chances of the King making her a peer 
were very slim. But either Buckingham— if he remained in 
power— or the Lord Treasurer, Danby (who was see-saw- 
ing between his old alliance with Buckingham and a new 
league with Portsmouth), could easily make her a 
countess. Nevertheless, her most important reason was 

In November and December Nell attended many little 
supper-parties at which all kinds of wild political schemes 
were discussed. But it was Buckingham's nature always to 
make light of trouble— even now, when he faced the great- 
est fight of his career. Once Edward, Lord Conway, was 
invited to Lady Shrewsbury's house and found there "my 
Lord Treasurer [Danby], Nell Gwyn, the Duke of Buck- 

The Rival Ladies 147 

ingham, and Mr. Speaker [Seymour]." They all "went to 
supper, were very merry, and drank smartly." 

When Parliament convened again in early January, 
1674, Buckingham's enemies used a new weapon. For six 
years Lady Shrewsbury's two sons had been wards of her 
dead husband's family. Now, speaking in behalf of the 
older boy, the young Earl of Shrewsbury, these guardians 
petitioned the House of Lords to do something about "the 
wicked and scandalous life" of his mother and her ducal 
lover. The honest petitioners would not have complained, 
they said, "had the offenders employed the usual care to 
cover their guilt and shame," but they persisted in their 
course publicly, "in defiance of the laws of God and man, 
having caused a base son of theirs to be buried in the abbey 
church at Westminster with all solemnities ..." Buck- 
ingham's insult to the aristocracy was the one unforgiv- 
able sin. 

Attacked in both houses at once, Buckingham waged a 
bitter defensive war, in the Commons laying the blame for 
all unpopular policies on Arlington and the dead Clifford, 
and in the Lords denying, extenuating, and finally ad- 
mitting his guilt and begging "pardon of God and the 
House." The Commons voted an address for his removal 
as minister; the House of Lords, which could have in- 
voked the ecclesiastical laws against adultery, ^^ as more 
merciful. It forbade the guilty pair to cohabit again, under 
penalty of forfeiting bonds for £10,000 which each \\as 
required to execute. The middle-aged Antony (he was 
forty-six) and his plump Cleopatra agreed and signed. 
Lady Shrewsbury fled to a nunnery in France, whence, 
after a time, came word that she was making "strong rcsol- 

148 Nell Gnjoyn: Royal Mistress 

utions" and had "great faith." Buckingham, dismissed 
from all his offices, went penitently to church with his 
faithful wife. Then he followed Lord Shaftesbury into 
the arms of the Country Party. He continued to be a fre- 
quent and welcome guest at Nell Gwyn's house in Pall 
Mall. Fallen statesmen could rise again; anyway, Buck- 
ingham was her friend. 

It was no more difficult for Buckingham to turn his coat 
and adopt a brand new set of principles than it had been 
for Shaftesbury. Both men were opportunists, willing to 
ignore ideals, principles, and personal animus in their pur- 
suit of power. Now Buckingham made friends with the 
Mammon of republicanism, allowed himself to be argued 
out of his Anglican views by nonconformist fanatics, and 
made overtures to the very enemies who had brought 
about his downfall. Shaftesbury had quickly become the 
acknowledged leader of the Country Party; within a year 
Buckingham was his closest rival and lieutenant. The two 
politicians were never really friends, and neither quite 
trusted the other (Shaftesbury thought Buckingham was 
"inconstant and giddy"), but they learned to work well 
together as leaders of the opposition and built up a ruth- 
less, powerful, party organization. 

With Buckingham's defeat, the wise Earl of Danby al- 
lied himself with the Duchess of Portsmouth and became 
the King's chief minister. King Charles got no money 
from Parliament and no new subsidies from Louis XIV. 
Without funds to set forth his fleet again, with dissension 
and clamor against Papists and standing armies at home, 
and the fortunes of the allies failing on land and sea, there 
was nothing to do but withdraw from the French alliance 

The Rival Ladies 149 

and— in spite of his solemn promises— make a separate peace 
with Holland. On February 9 a treaty was concluded. 
Charles apologized profusely to the French Ambassador 
and saved face by leaving several English regiments 
(among them that in which Nell's brother-in-law was a 
captain) in the service and pay of the French army. 

It was time for England to save itself. In Holland's day 
of peril young William of Orange (King Charles's neph- 
ew) had been made general of the small Dutch army and 
emerged as the savior of the Netherlands. A man of small 
body but resolute mind, by his military skill he succeeded 
in blunting the French sword driving into the heart of 
Holland. Moreover, he proved himself an able diplomat, 
drawing into the war against France the German Em- 
peror, the King of Spain, and the Elector of Brandenburg. 
Against this coalition even the mighty French army could 
not prevail. For four more years it marched across north- 
ern Europe, besieging towns, fighting bloody battles, dy- 
ing for the glory of "His Most Christian Majesty," Louis 
XIV— and achieving nothing. England was at peace, traded 
with both sides, and prospered. 

With the war ended for England in the spring of 1674, 
Whitehall returned to normal. In April the Duchess of 
Cleveland turned Lord Mulgrave out to grass, with the 
blazing star of the Garter pinned to his coat, granted for 
his "faithful services and great abilities." In one of his 
satires Lord Rochester accused the Duchess of Cleveland 
of wearing out six courtiers in succession: the Duke of 
Monmouth, the Earl of Cavendish, Sir Carr Scroope, and 
Messrs. Henningham, Villiers, and Newport; but this was 
a base libel— Rochester had no sentry at the doors of Berk- 

150 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

shire House. The duchess took on only one new lover this 
year, Henry Savile, now a Groom of the Bedchamber to 
the King. 

Savile, a big, blunt, hearty Yorkshireman, was a new 
type to the Duchess of Cleveland. Paradoxically, he was 
an honest courtier and diplomat. Younger brother to the 
Earl of Halifax, he had early made up his mind to rise in 
the world by Court favor, and philosophically accepted 
servility and attendance as his lot in life. Although he 
claimed to be "the laziest man alive," he was industrious 
and able, and his personal and diplomatic letters were often 
brilliantly penned. On occasion he acted with remarkable 
rashness, and in his cups he was given to blurting out the 
truth, much to the chagrin of his superiors. 

His rashness is well illustrated by an episode of some 
three years eariier than this time. Among those present at 
a house party at Althorp, country home of the Sunder- 
land family, were Savile and the young and recently 
widowed Countess Northumberland, upon whose virtue 
(or property, said to be worth £10,000 a year) Savile had 
designs. In the dead of night, clad only in his shirt, Savile 
crept into the countess's chamber, "having the day before 
stole away the bolt so that there was nothing but a latch 
to lift." The countess woke up, Savile plumped to his 
knees and poured forth protestations of love. The fright- 
ened lady, caught naked in her bed, instinctively pulled 
the bell-rope— a step, said the gossips, which she would 
never have taken had the lover done more and said less. 
The house was roused; Savile fled betimes and was pur- 
sued to London by stern male relatives with swords drawn 
and honor to avenge. A duel was prevented partly by the 

The Rival Ladies 1 5 1 

King's amused intervention, partly by Savile's hurried 
departure for France. As usual, he apologized to all 
concerned and was forgiven. There was something en- 
gagingly boyish about Henry Savile. He was the Earl of 
Rochester's intimate friend, and Nell Gwyn was very fond 
of him. 

During the spring and summer of 1674 the Duchess of 
Portsmouth was out of the amatory competition. While 
Buckingham was defending himself against charges of 
adultery in the House of Lords, King Charles was con- 
tracting "the pox" from a careless wench brought to his 
chamber by way of the Privy Stairs. The King recovered 
after the normal period of treatment, but before he knew 
he had the disease he gave it to Portsmouth. Although she 
was consoled in her misery by Louis XIV's gifts of a 
pearl necklace and a valuable diamond she was in wretched 
health for nearly eight months, traveling to Bath and Tun- 
bridge Wells for the waters, and trying one physician 
after another. 

Nell escaped infection and spent a happy summer with 
the King and her children at Windsor. A few of Chif- 
finch's accounts for the period May 19 to August i show 
that she lived comfortably at the King's expense, \\'ith 
considerable expenditures for "diet" for herself and her 
family, for "oranges, lemons, etc.," for the feeding and 
care of her horses, the carriage of her goods, manure for 
her garden, and even "£30. 12s. 8d. for building a pump" 
for her small house at Windsor. Nell bouo^ht as she 
pleased, and the bills were submitted to Thomas Groundes, 
her steward, who turned them over to Chiffinch for pay- 
ment. It was not a bad arrangement for Nell, but it wis 

152 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

hard on the tradesmen who often waited months for their 

Late in August the whole Court was present at a sham 
battle representing the siege of Maestricht in Holland. A 
year earlier the gaudy Duke of Monmouth had been the 
hero of that battle: slightly hampered by a few thousand 
French soldiers and some English volunteers, he had cap- 
tured a strategic counter-scarp. Now, in a meadow below 
Windsor Castle, "bastions, bulwarks, ramparts, palisadoes, 
graifs, horn-works, counter-scarps, etc., were con- 
structed." There was all the pomp and circumstance of a 
formal siege; great guns were fired, "grenadoes" shot off, 
and mines sprung; prisoners were taken and exchanged; 
soldiers fell wounded and lay twitching on the field. It 
was very pretty, and, "being night, it made a formidable 
show." The battle ended with the capture of the famous 
counter-scarp by Monmouth, sword in hand, while the 
spectators rent the skies with their applause. 

In the autumn of the year the Duchess of Portsmouth 
returned to command again at Whitehall. By now, partly 
because national prosperity had brought a large increase 
in his revenues, partly because the brilliant Lord Danby 
had brought order out of chaos, the King was able to con- 
solidate his casual gifts and "bounties" into regular an- 
nuities for his ladies. Of course Cleveland got the lioness's 
share, with £6,000 a year for herself and £3,000 for each 
of her sons— £15,000 in all. At the same time her third 
son. Lord George, was created Earl of Northumberland. 
Portsmouth was second with £8,600 for herself and her 
son, "for her natural life and one year after her decease." 
As usual Nell was third with only £4,000 (roughly $80,- 

The Rival Ladies 1 5 3 

000) a year for herself and her two boys; significantly the 
pension was not for Nell's life but only during the King's 
"pleasure"— that is, it could be stopped whenever he 
chose, and it ended with his death. Of course, over and 
above these annuities, all three ladies had other sources of 
income: gifts from the King, lands in England and Ire- 
land, receipts from minor taxes, fees from offices, and the 
like. There was no pension for retiring Moll Davis. 

That autumn was a busy and exciting time for Nell, 
with all sorts of things stirring. The best event was her 
new pension; the worst was the news that her brother-in- 
law. Captain Cassels, whose regiment had been loaned to 
the French king, had been killed in Holland. When it be- 
came necessary to send an agent overseas to attend to Cas- 
sels' affairs, the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Samuel Pepys, 
placed a yacht at Nell's disposal to convey "Mr. PhiHp 
Pigeare" to Dieppe and back. Only a week before that 
time another friend. Lord Mulgrave, had been seriously 
wounded in a duel over the possession of wanton Mall 
Kirke, whose mother, Mrs. Mary Kirke, had been so 
quick to call Nell "whore" three years earher. Then to- 
ward the end of October Henry KilHgrew was promoted 
to the post of Groom of the Bedchamber to the King, and 
Lord Buckhurst announced his marriage to Ladv Fal- 
mouth; at the same time, by the death of an uncle, Buck- 
hurst became Earl of Middlesex. Finally, in November 
the Court was a-stir with preparations for a new masque, 
Calisto, by John Crowne. Moll Davis was coming out of 
retirement to personate the river Thames; Marv Knight 
was to sing the role of Peace; and Lady Mary Mordaunt, 
another of Nell's friends, was to have the role of an envious 

154 ^^^^ Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

nymph, Psecas. In a serious masque there was no part for 
Nell the comedian, but she was consoled by the dedica- 
tion of Thomas Duffett's new play. The Spanish Rogue, 
in which the impartial poet described her as "the greatest 
goodness in the world," "free from sullen pride and af- 
fected stateliness," and "the most perfect beauty" of the 
age. Truly "Madam Ellen Gwyn" was now a great lady. 

Her "goodness" did not include charity to the Duchess 
of Portsmouth; she never missed a chance to ridicule her 
rival. Sometime that autumn Portsmouth had herself 
painted in an elaborate lace smock, with one breast bare. 
Seated against a background of rich draperies, she held a 
dove in her hands as if defending it against her two-year- 
old son, pictured as a Cupid. Nell went to the same paint- 
er, wore the same smock or a duplicate, with a like 
degree of nudity, and had herself painted reclining on a 
bed of flowers against the identical background of drap- 
eries. Her two sons were shown hovering near as Cupids, 
the older pulling back the curtains to disclose his mother, 
the younger flying toward her from the right with an 
impish look on his face, a bow in one hand and a flaming 
torch in the other. To complete the picture a regal figure 
in the right distance personated the King. The torch, of 
course, symbolized his burning love for Nell. It was a nice 
painting to hang in one's drawing-room and show off to 

Again, early in December, when word came from 
France that the famous Chevalier de Rohan had died, 
Portsmouth went into deep mourning, "as being, forsooth, 
of kin to that family." Not to be outdone, the next day 
Nell too donned black, claiming that she was mourning for 

The Rival Ladies 155 

the recently deceased Cham of Tartaiy, who bore just the 
same relationship to her as de Rohan to Portsmouth. 

It was very good fun but unprofitable. Young Charles 
was now four, James was nearly three, and the King gave 
no sign of keeping his promises. Sadly Nell told her boys 
that they "were princes by their father for their eleva- 
tion, but they had a whore to their mother for their 


Ellen Gwyn^^ 

I 6 T s 



XCEPT for her failure to get her sons acknowledged, 
there was no reason for Nell to bewail her origin and oc- 
cupation. At twenty-five there was little of Covent Gar- 
den left in her. Madam Ellen Gwyn was accepted as a 
friend by the blue-bloods of the Court circle, and— except 
for occasional lapses into profanity when her temper 
flared— she was a complete lady in speech, dress, and man- 
ner. She lived in "high equipage" with her mansion, a 
sedan-chair, a coach and horses, a retinue of servants, and 
an assured income— at least during the King's pleasure. By 
various tricks and cajolings she managed to add consider- 
ably to that income. 

For example, on December 5, 1674, the King gave her 
£500 for hangings for her house. On February 18, 1675, 
he gave her another £500 which was "not to be accounted 
any part of her allowance." These sums were charged 
against the Treasury. In addition, between December 31, 
1674, ^^d April 30, 1675, he gave her a total of £2,500 
from the Secret Service funds as "bounty." Now all of 
these payments were over and above her regular annuity, 
which was supposed to be paid quarterly but \\ as usually 
a month or so in arrears. During 1675 ^h^ Treasury paid 
only £3,500 of her pension. From the end of 1674 ^^ ^he 
end of 1675 her total income, then, was £7,000— roughly 
equivalent to $140,000 (the pound of that time being 


i6o Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

approximately equal to $20 in our values). Of course her 
rivals, the Duchesses of Cleveland and Portsmouth, were 
paid even larger sums, but after all they were ladies by 
birth and had to be more heavily compensated for their 
descent into trade. 

Nell was not a thrifty person; the more she got, the 
more she spent, and she was rarely solvent. By happy ac- 
cident a number of her receipted bills for 1675, some of 
them complete, some only mutilated and tantalizing frag- 
ments, have survived the dangers of fire, mold, mice, and 
manuscript collectors to tell us something about her way 
of living and its cost. 

The taxes on her home were trivial by comparison with 
her income. Although there are no bills for hearth money, 
church rates, subsidies voted by Parliament, or special as- 
sessments (all of which usually came to about £20 a year 
for well-to-do people) we know that Nell paid £2. 12s. a 
year for the poor of St. Martin's Parish, £3. for water 
(piped to her house from a wooden conduit maintained 
by the parish), and £1. for scavenger service. The cost of 
keeping her house in good repair is not indicated. There 
is one fragmentary bill from her plumber, John Chennet, 
for "solder used about the mount" (of her pump?) and 
for "labor for that and the balcony," but the charge is 
missing. The only item that might be considered a part of 
the regular overhead for her house is a bill for fuel in 
August: £13. 13s. for twenty-one "loads of coals"— a load 
was usually a chaldron, or thirty-two bushels. 

Nell had at least eight servants. The cheapest of these 
was the "maid wench," the cook's helper, who was paid 
the magnificent sum of is. a week (plus, of course, her 

''Madam Ellen Gwyn''' i6i 

keep). The costliest was Thomas Groundes, her steward 
and man of business. Good majordomos were paid salaries 
ranging as high as £ioo a year, but they did not live in 
the house. A cook and a nursemaid could be hired for £4 
each a year, with board and lodging. A footman, a porter, 
and a coachman were paid each £6 to £10, plus liveries, 
board, and some kind of a hole to sleep in (the coachman 
usually lived at the stables where the horses were kept). 
A personal maid— a woman of some refinement and educa- 
tion, able to act as Nell's amanuensis at need— cost £12 or 
£15 a year, plus the usual board and lodging. 

Although Nell owned her own sedan-chair, she hired 
professional carriers by the week. On October 13, 1675, 
William Calow and his partner submitted a bill for 
£1. IIS. 6d. for carrying Nell at various times to visit her 
sister, Mrs. Cassels, her friends, Mary Knight, Arabella 
Churchill (the Duke of York's mistress). Madam Mary 
Young (the King's seamstress), and "waiting," once for 
four hours, once for seven. They charged also for carry- 
ing another friend. Lady Lucy Sandys, "to the play at 
Whitehall and waiting," and for carrying Nell to an un- 
stated destination "and waiting eleven hours." The two 
chairmen set a low valuation on their time, about 6d. an 
hour for each. 

Of course Nell owned a "French coach" (with glass 
windows), emblazoned with her monogram in gold. For 
this she had to have at least six good horses \\iiich were 
kept in rented stables and fed richly. One of John Top- 
ham's bills for "horsemeat" covered supplies of hay, oats, 
beans, and straw from July 6 to August 8, 1675, at a cost 
of £21. IS. Her coachman, John Cooke, kept an itemized 

1 62 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

list of his expenditures whenever Nell took a trip to 
Windsor or Newmarket. He w^as reimbursed for stabling, 
"horsemeat," "greasing the coach," the fee of a farrier 
who bled one of the horses, and even for alms given to "a 
poor man." 

What with herself, her two sons, her servants, and her 
mother who was living with her in 1675, Nell had a large 
number of mouths to fill at every meal. Then, too, she 
often had guests for dinners, suppers, or "collations" late 
at night. The eating habits of the time were based on the 
touching faith that health and strength came from large 
quantities of solid food and strong drink, particularly the 
latter. Breakfast for almost everybody consisted of a 
"morning draught" of ale or beer, with bread and butter 
or something savory: radishes, anchovies, or pickled oys- 
ters. Dinner at noon was the heaviest meal of the day with 
roasts of beef and mutton, meat pies, fish, fowl, bread, 
cheese, an occasional salad or a vegetable, fruits in their 
season, tarts, and sweets— all on the table at once. Supper 
was only a smaller version of dinner, eaten at any odd 
hour of the evening. At a formal dinner Nell's guests sat 
on armless chairs around a long table loaded with steaming 
dishes. The gentlemen wore their hats except when a toast 
was proposed. Those who were very mannerly were care- 
ful not to fill their mouths too full, not to belch publicly, 
not to pick their teeth with their forks, and not to break 
bones with their hands and suck the marrow noisily. 

Meat was the staple food. On January 26, 1675, Nell's 
cook submitted for the week past a carefully itemized bill 
which included "4 stone & pound of beef," 13 pounds of 
mutton, a leg and a loin of pork, and a leg of veal— rough- 

''Madam Ellen Givyn'" 163 

ly 120 pounds of meat costing £1. 6s. lod. In addition the 
cook spent 14s. 2d. on oysters, salt fish, gudgeons, smelts, 
salmon, shrimps, and "hogs sweet-breads," and 7s. 8d. for 
eggs, a pullet, "a chick," and "a hen with eggs." Against 
a total of £2. 8s. 8d. for flesh she spent only 6d. for barley 
and rice, is. 3d. for "half a peck of flour," is. 6d. for 
"small bread" (rolls), 5s. for "household bread," is. for 
"half a hundred turnips," and 4s. 3d. for currants, raisins, 
oranges, and "golden pippins"— a total of 13s. 8d. 

The total expended for the week was £4. 5s. 9d. (about 
$85). This covered also such odd items as milk (is. 8d.), 
a cheese (2s. 8d.), a custard and a cheese-cake (6d.), a 
bottle of sack for cooking (2s.), "blacking and whiting 
and soap" (3d.), a week's pay for the "maid wench," and 
half a crown for the chairman who brought Master 
Charles home one day. It did not include, of course, the 
cost of beer, ale, wine, and brandy. When Nell gave a 
party the cook's account nearly doubled; a fragmentary 
bill for only three days came to a total of £3. 9s. 3d. That 
a party was in preparation is shown by the listing of such 
delicacies as two pigeons (3 s. 4d.), four chickens (6s.), a 
neck of veal (5s.), a shoulder of mutton (3s.), "2 lb of 
dou clarified sugar" (2s. 8d.), five pounds of butter (3s. 
2d.), and quantities of cream, cloves, currants, raisins, and 

The English nation of five million people consumed an- 
nually some twelve million barrels of beer and ale. Nell's 
household did its best to raise the national average. A bill 
for a six month's supply of malt beverages covered nine 
kilderkins, or half -barrels (totaUing 144 gallons), of ale 
and twenty-three and a half barrels (856 gallons) of small 

164 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

beer— "eight-shilling beer." The cost was £14. 3s. The 
small beer was for the servants and the children; the ale- 
strong or "ordinary"— was for the mistress and her guests 
(for old Madam Gwyn there was brandy) . No one, not 
even the children, drank water except as a desperate last- 
^esort. If the household followed the national pattern it 
consumed also very large quantities of wine. A gentleman 
did not sip claret or burgundy from a dainty little glass; 
when he drank a health he emptied a goblet— a "brimmer" 
—at a draught, turning the empty glass "supernaculum," 
upside down against his thumb nail, to show that not a 
drop was left. At a formal dinner the host walked about 
the table proposing a toast to each guest in turn and lead- 
ing the liquid chorus. The ladies managed to hold their 
own on such occasions. 

Nell's household suffered from the usual ailments: colds, 
catarrhs, fevers, and the digestive distress caused by a too- 
heavy diet. A dilapidated apothecary's bill from July, 
1675, to November, 1676, totalled £45. 14s. pd. for drugs, 
medical supplies, and treatments. (Nell still owed £81. 3s. 
9d. on a "former bill which was delivered to Mr. Chif- 
finch.") Since the medical axiom was that all diseases could 
be alleviated, if not cured, by evacuation, the commonest 
charges were for a "glyster" (an enema given by the apothe- 
cary), for the instruments used, "an ivory pipe and blad- 
der," and for purges and emetics. 

From July through December, 1675, there were charges 
for "cordial mixtures," "glysters," and "ointments" for old 
Mrs. Gwyn. In addition she took "plague water" at the 
rate of a quart a week— at 8s. 4d. a quart. "Plague water," 
a very popular tonic, was brandy flavored with herbs. Old 

"Madam Ellen Givyn^^ 165 

Madam Gwyn was well fortified against the now almost 
non-existent plague. The nostrum helped her dipsomania, 
too. In 1676 she moved to a house in Chelsea and her name 
disappeared from the apothecary's list. 

As usual, sturdy Nell enjoyed good health, but she 
bought a number of cosmetics: ''Queen of Hungary's 
water" (a popular toilet preparation), "oil of white lilies 
and oil of roses" (supposed to be good for the eyes), "rose 
water," and other "waters for the face." Her children 
suffered from ordinary colds, colics, and stomach-aches. 
"Pectoral syrup," plasters, and sugar candy were pre- 
scribed for their coughs. The heroic (and circular) nature 
of the remedies is shown by entries for "two blistering 
plasters" followed at once by "plasters to dress the blis- 
ters." Master Charles, now five, was a healthy lad, although 
in October, 1675, a delicious and effective "cordial julep 
with pearls" was prescribed for him. In April, 1676, Mas- 
ter James had a siege which called for a plaster, three doses 
of "purging powder," a "cordial," and "two ounces of 

diascordium" a witches brew of herbs. The servants, 

too, had their ailments. John Cooke was ill for two weeks 
in March, 1676, requiring a "sudorific potion," six glysters, 
and several quarts of cordials. Like the other patients, he 

Fuel, food, drink, and drugs were the mundane neces- 
sities for any large household; buying them gave Nell no 
pleasure. As a matter of fact, she had httle or nothing to 
do with ordering or paying for such everyday things. 
Thomas Groundes, her faithful steward, took care of the 
household routine and saw to it that the larder and cellar 
were stocked, the horses groomed, and the house kept in 

1 66 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

repair. He scrutinized all bills for services and supplies, ob- 
jecting to excessive charges, and sometimes refusing to pay 
until a bill was reduced. He was careful to have every 
tradesman sign a receipt according to a conventional 
formula: "Received then of Madam Ellen Gwyn at the 

hands of Thomas Groundes the sum of in payment 

of this bill and all other demands to date." Sometimes when 
Groundes (because of Nell's extravagance) was short of 
cash, he had to stall oiT a creditor with a payment "on 

Unfortunately Nell was often too extravagant for Mr. 
Groundes' peace of mind. She denied herself nothing and 
ran up accounts everywhere, confident that the bills would 
be paid. She even charged the cost of her amusements. 
Two or three times a week she went to the theatre with 
at least one companion and sometimes with two or three 
guests, sitting always in the best seats. Late in 1676 the 
Duke's Theatre presented a bill for performances she at- 
tended from September, 1674, ^^ J^^ie, 1676, casually 
putting the charges "on the cuff" until the total came to 
£35. 19s. Nell played cards at the Groom Porters, and 
bet on horses and gamecocks— quick ways to the poor- 
house. She entertained lavishly, bought clothing, jewels, 
silver, and furnishings without counting the cost. As a re- 
sult she was always short of cash and forever seeking addi- 
tions to her income. 

As the King's mistress her credit was excellent, and it 
was fun to shop at the fashionable New Exchange, an 
arcade in the Strand with rows of shops along double 
galleries of black stone. Here the displays of modish linens, 
laces, hats, shoes, and gloves were presided over by bold- 

^^ Madam Ellen Gwyn^'' 167 

€yed young women who were famous for their wares and 
notorious for their private lives. There were jewelers', sil- 
versmiths', hosiers', perfumers', booksellers', and fruiterers' 
shops, and of a morning the Exchange was crowded with 
"persons of quality." Nell's coach took her to the Ex- 
change in jolting state; then, followed by a footman to 
carry her purchases, she wandered through the galleries, 
stopping now and then to chat with a friend or to finger a 
fine fabric. 

She bought recklessly, not only fine clothing for her 
children— "2 white sarcenet [silk] hoods with scarfs to 
um" and "a doz of childrens white gloves"— but lavish and 
expensive ready-made articles for herself, shoes, materials, 
and particularly the garish laces used to trim and decorate 
her petticoats. (Over-dresses were opened down the skirt 
in front and drawn back to show off the petticoats in all 
their glory.) For example, on June 18, 1675, Henry 
Robins sent her a bill for fifty-three and a half vards of 
black, green, gold, and silver lace, the total coming to 
£17. 8s. 2d. On July 17 Richard Howe's bill for £11. los. 
was for three white satin under-petticoats and three night 
gowns (dressing gowns), one of white satin. On July 30 
Henry Roberts' bill for shoes bought since the last of 
February came to £14. 5s. This covered ten pairs for Nell 
and five pairs for the children. Nell's shoes and slippers 
were made of cloth-of -silver, or of green, gold, scarlet, 
or "sky-colored" satin. Master Charles had a pair of "satin 
shoes laced over gold"— trimmed with gold braid. 

That summer the widowed Rose Cassels, a careful and 
thrifty shopper, did some sewing for her sister, submitting 
bills for only the materials used. (In the autumn Nell man- 

1 68 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

aged to get Rose's pension increased to £200.) One of 
Rose's statements added up to £5. i8s. 6d. for ribbons, 
pins, knots, shoestrings, and "colbertine" and other laces 
for a rich petticoat. Another bill for materials for a gown 
and petticoat came to £14. 12s. 4d., but it included also 
"a fine landskip fan." At the bottom of one bill for ribbons 
and laces, some "narrow to ruffle," some "broad for the 
body" of a petticoat. Rose wrote to her sister, "I have 
sent you the rest of the ribbon and lace that was left. I 
was in twenty shops looking for cheaper but could not 
[find any] for my life." Certainly Rose was no spend- 

Nell's love of finery and show was not solely the result 
of her vulgar background. It was a gaudy age. The most 
genteel courtiers vied with each other in costly and elab- 
orate clothes, rococco decorations and furnishings, gilded 
and laquered sedan-chairs and coaches. Two years earlier 
the refined Duchess of Portsmouth had had "the famousest 
chair making that ever was seen, beyond the King's or 
Queen's by far." Now, with her own almost unlimited 
credit, it was only natural that Nell should go her rival 
one better. Her new sedan-chair, delivered on June 17, 
1675, was a splendid example of the joiner's craft. It was 
lined with serge, covered on the outside with "the best 
neat's leather" over canvas, studded with thousands of 
gold-headed nails, and gilded liberally on windowframes 
and iron-work. Thomas Groundes objected to the bill for 
£34. IIS., and Mr. Wright, the joiner, accepted £30 "in 
full discharge." 

Nell's expenditures for clothing, shoes, a sedan-chair, 
and household furnishings (for example, £60 for "a doz 

''Madam Ellen Gwyn'' 169 

of silver trencher plates") were small by comparison with 
what she spent this year on improvements in her bedroom 
—where she did her important entertaining. The work 
was started in May, 1674, when a woodcarver, a joiner, 
and an upholsterer combined their skills in "Stuff and work 
done for Madam Gwyn's bedroom." The results of their 
collaboration were satin window curtains set in richly 
carved frames, two "wainscot seats with compass ends," 
carved and embellished with Nell's monogram (a chaste 
"E.G."), and various minor repairs and improvements to 
the tune of £23. 19s. 8d. (The bill, trimmed by Groundes 
to £20. I OS., was not paid until August 25, 1675.) 

With £500 worth of hangings (brocade or tapestry 
drapes covering most of the wall space) Nell had a splen- 
did background for the baroque silver bedstead designed 
and executed by John Coques, silversmith. His labor and 
materials cost approximately £1,100. The basic structure 
of the canopied bed was carved wood, but the headboard 
and the posts which supported the canopy were decorated 
with silver crowns, eagles, cupids, a head of the King, and 
a miniature figure of the Duchess of Cleveland's ex-lover, 
"Jacob Hall dancing upon the rope of wire work." (This 
was a nice touch of humor. It was the duchess's infatuation 
with Jacob Hall in 1670 which finally broke up her carnal 
relations with King Charles and left the field clear for Nell 
and other competitors.) Coques' total bill was £1,135. 3s. 
id., but this included the cost of mending "the great 
silver andirons" and "the gold hour glass," cleaning and 
burnishing "a sugar box, a pepper pot, a mustard pot, and 
two cruses," and making and dehvering two silver bot- 

170 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

All of this work— window-curtains, seats, hangings, and 
bed— was finished by August, 1675. Now, to complete the 
bedroom and let the light of day gleam upon its splendors, 
Nell had all her old, dingy, discolored windows reglazed. 
Edward Traherne "sold and delivered" £61. 7s. 8d. worth 
of Normandy glass— the best and clearest obtainable— 
"diamond cut" from handmade rounds into small panes 
and puttied "into the shapes." The price w^as exorbitant, 
of course, and Groundes could pay only £40 on account, 
but no matter; Nell's bedroom was now completely re- 
furbished at a cost of some £1,700. It was a rich setting 
for a lovely jade. 

Some time that autumn, in all the luxury of her fine 
house, rich furnishings, and beautiful clothes, Nell gave a 
party. She invited the King, the Duke of York, and a few 
of her intimates to a "concert of music" in her drawing- 
room. Candlelight glowed on satins and lace and gleamed 
on burnished silver. The company sat in cushioned chairs 
while young Bowman from the King's Theatre sang of the 
joys of love to the soft strains of fiddle, theorbo, and lute. 
The evening was a great success, and Madam Ellen Gwyn 
was the grande dame in the height of her wealth and 

At the close of the performance, the King— the source 
of all her riches— thanked the musicians (his usual phrase 
was "I thank you heartily, again and again") and expressed 
his pleasure in high terms. "Then, sir," said Nell, "to show 
you don't speak like a courtier, I hope you'll make the 
performers a handsome present." The King fumbled in his 
pockets, admitted with some embarrassment that he had 
no money, and asked the Duke if he had any. "I believe. 

"Madam Ellen Gwyn^^ 171 

sir," said the Duke, "not above a guinea or two." Suddenly 
Nell was struck by the irony of the situation. Turning to 
her other guests and borrowing the King's pet oath she 
cried, "Od's fish! What company am I got into?" 





I 6 J J - I 6 J 6 



OR AT LEAST six years after the defeat of Bucking- 
ham, Nell was in politics up to her elbows. The leaders of 
the Country Party were often at her house, took her at 
least part way into their confidence, and tried to influence 
the King through her. Pale, long-faced Shaftesbury, al- 
ways tortured by the suppurating ulcer in his side, and 
Buckingham, as blustering as ever, talked in flaming words 
about liberty, conscience, toleration, the rights of the 
people, and such tiresome stuff. To protect themselves 
against possible arrest, the two leaders had taken residences 
within the old liberties of London: Shaftesbury in Alders- 
gate Street and Buckingham in Dowgate— the King sar- 
castically called Buckingham "Alderman George." NelFs 
home was a kind of neutral ground, and not infrequently 
the King, who wanted to know what his enemies \\ ere 
thinking, met and talked with them there. Nell's own rea- 
sons for being in politics were entirely personal: the poli- 
ticians were her friends, and she wanted wealth and honors 
for herself and her sons. The fundamental conflict between 
the Court and Country Parties meant so little to her that 
sometimes she worked innocently against her own best 

However confused the political details seemed, the real 
issue was clear enough. The King and his party were deter- 
mined to preserve all the ancient rights of the Cro\Mi; the 


176 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

Country Party was bent on setting up Parliament as the 
real governing power. Both sides had their principles; both 
were in the right, and neither would compromise. Charles 
refused to be dictated to on his foreign policy or his choice 
of ministers; whereupon Parliament refused to vote him 
money. It was a beautiful impasse. 

Shaftesbury, the acknowledged leader of the Country 
Party, was a curious blend of patriotism, duplicity, and 
megalomania. Had he been born a king, he would have 
set out to conquer the world, trusting in his stars and con- 
vinced that what he did was for the good of humanity. 
He was learned, brilliant, industrious, and sometimes 
honest. Dry den, in his "Absolom and Achitophel" ( 1 68 1 ) , 
pictured him as a man fitted "for close designs and crooked 
counsels," sagacious, bold, restless, dissatisfied whether in 
or out of power. 

In friendship false, implacable in hate, 
Resolved to ruin or to rule the state. 

As a statesman, Shaftesbury was 

A daring pilot in extremity, 

Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high 
He sought the storms, but, for a calm unfit, 
Would steer too nigh the sands, to boast his wit. 
Great wits are sure to madness near allied. 
And thin partitions do their bounds divide. 

There were times in Shaftesbury's turbulent career when 
it seemed that the thin partitions had broken down. 

Political parties, particularly when out of power, tend 
to draw together numbers of irreconcilable elements, 

The Triple Combats 177 

united only by their common desire to gain power. The 
Country Party was no exception. There were honest 
patriots among its members, men like Algernon Sidney 
and Lord William Russell, who (again according to Dry- 
den) "thought the power of monarchy too much," and 
sought to limit and control it. More numerous were the 
opportunists, dissatisfied place-hunters like Buckingham, 
Ralph Montagu, and the Earl of Sunderland, who "for 
interest sought t'embroil the state." But the bulk of the 
rank and file were fanatics— old-line Presbyterians and 
Puritans, haters of popery and prelacy; republicans, Crom- 
wellians, and theocrats, "Of the true old enthusiastic 
breed;" and the London citizenry who were 

well versed of old 
In Godly faction, and in treason bold; 
Cowering and quaking at a conqueror's sword, 
But lofty to a lawful prince restored. 

And, finally, there was the mob (the word w^as just being 

the herd of such 
Who think too little and who talk too much. 

Only a political genius could weld together and use such 
a miscellany of types, and Shaftesbury w^as a political 
genius of the first order. But so was King Charles. 

In 1675 the government was almost a one-man ministry. 
Lord Treasurer Danby had succeeded Buckingham as chief 
minister and, towered head and shoulders above his col- 
leagues. Of course the Duchess of Portsmouth, the King's 
French mistress (charged by Louis XIV w4th the duty of 
looking after the French interest) ^^'as a kind of minister 

178 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

ex officio. Lord Arlington, formerly Secretary of State, 
had been demoted to futility as Lord Chamberlain of the 
Household. The uncouth old Scotsman, John Maitland, 
Duke of Lauderdale, the only one of the Cabal still in 
power, was now High Commissioner for Scotland, but he 
devoted his time to oppressing his countrymen. All the 
other ministers were nonentities. To oppose the growing 
strength of the Country Party, Danby built up the Court 
Party— largely by gifts of places, pensions, and cash— and 
sought to revive the absolutism of Charles Fs reign. Old 
Puritans had long called the anniversary of Charles Fs exe- 
cution "Calf's Head day;" now they applied the bovine 
epithet to Danby. 

One day in March, 1675, a few weeks before Parliament 
was due to meet, the King was complaining to a group 
of Nell's guests about his lack of money. Boldly Nell 
suggested that "if he would take her advice she doubted 
not that His Majesty should be supplied." The King asked, 
"Which way?" Nell replied that when Parliament sat "he 
should treat them with a French ragou, Scotts collops, and 
a calf's head." The King laughed and seemed "well 
pleased." Viciously Nell added, "Hang up the Scotch dog 
and the French bitch." 

She was well informed on Parhament's mood. In the 
session of April 1 3 to June 9 the Commons did their best 
to impeach Danby and voted an address to the King pray- 
ing him to remove Lauderdale "from his presence, his 
counsels, and all employments." They could do nothing 
to show their hatred of Portsmouth and had to take it out 
in talk. Four months earlier Portsmouth had made her 
younger sister, Henriette de Keroualle, a countess by 

The Triple Combats 179 

marrying her to Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, a noble 
brute with a flair for homicide. (The marriage had been 
delayed several months while Pembroke recovered from 
an attack of pox.) Now in May, 1675, when the Sieur 
de Keroualle came to England to visit his daughters, the 
"angry Parliament men" said bitterly that they expected 
to see him "an earl, at least, if not a knight of the garter 
too, in a very little time." Against the onslaughts of the 
Country Party Danby countered with a bill for a new 
Test Act which would have forced office-holders to take 
an oath of non-resistance to the Crown. The session broke 
up in confusion; nothing was done and the King got no 

And that year Nell had no honors for herself or her sons 
and no increase in wealth. In part she was herself to blame. 
The good-natured King never resented her barbed re- 
marks; in his ironic fashion he was merely amused. But 
Lord Danby, who controlled the finances and the seals 
required for patents of nobility, was not so tolerant. He 
was a proud, harsh man; he had no love for the little come- 
dian who was giving aid to his enemies, and he had a 
good memory for insults. Nell's pointed witticisms were 
often ill-timed, to say the least. Once, for example, she 
called on the Duchess of Cleveland and, thinking that the 
great lady was a trifle cool to her, Nell "clapped her on 
the shoulder and said she presumed that persons of one 
trade loved not one another!" There was no malice in such 
remarks; Nell honestly tried to follow Rochester's dictum: 
"Live in peace with all the world and easily with the 
King." She merely spoke whatever came into her giddy 

i8o Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

In Midsummer the two duchesses, Cleveland and Ports- 
mouth, launched a new drive for honors for their off- 
spring, and Rochester was not on hand to counsel Nell. 
One night in June he and his friends, Harry Savile, Lord 
Middle ton, and Lord Sussex had been "drinking and rois- 
tering all night with the King." As the young men left 
Whitehall at dawn "they came to the great dial in the 
Privy Garden and said, 'Kings and kingdoms tumble down 
and so shalt thou,' and took it in their arms and flung it 
down." The King was not amused at the loss of his sundial 
—an elaborate confection of glass spheres, "the rarest in 
Europe"— and the vandals were banished from Court for a 
time. Rochester had no sooner returned than he fell under 
the Duchess of Portsmouth's displeasure for something he 
was supposed to have written about her, and he was ban- 
ished for nearly a year to the horrors of the country and 
the society of his own wife. He denied that he had ever 
offended the duchess "in thought, word, or deed," but 
some poet— rumor said Rochester— had stuck a paper on 
her chamber door with the couplet. 

Within this place a bed's appointed 

For a French bitch and God's anointed. 

The Duchess of Cleveland was out to get her first and 
second sons created dukes of Southampton and Grafton 
respectively. Portsmouth chose the title Duke of Rich- 
mond (vacated by the death of Frances Stuart's husband) 
for her son. Hearing the thunder of the guns, Nell threw 
herself into the fray, unsupported. Within a few weeks 
reports came in that her older son was to be made "Earl 
of March to pacify her a little and to ease her in some 

The Triple Combats i8i 

measure of the mighty disquiets" aroused by news of the 
other proposals. But a mere earldom was not enough to 
content the embattled mother, "she looking upon her son 
[to be] as fit to be made a duke as any of the others." 

Her protests were fruitless; the clamorous duchesses 
simply ignored her and the battle of the Titans rolled on. 
Cleveland wanted her patents passed first, so that her boys 
would have precedence over the "French hussy's brat." 
Portsmouth was equally determined that her son should 
have precedence. The easy King tried to solve the problem 
by having all three patents passed at the same time, but 
Portsmouth got her son's documents to the complaisant 
Lord Treasurer well ahead of her rival. By August the 
battle was over. Portsmouth's son— by the name of Charles 
Richmond— was created Baron of Settrington, Earl (iron- 
ically!) of March, and Duke of Lennox and Richmond. 
Quickly thereafter Charles Fitzroy became Duke of South- 
ampton and George Fitzroy became Duke of Grafton. In 
her defeat poor Nelly was only partly consoled by an 
appointment as a Lady of the Privy Chamber to the Queen, 
a post within the gift of kind-hearted Queen Catherine and 
not subject to Danby's veto. At least Nell was now offi- 
cially a lady. 

There was nothing she could do about the long-estab- 
lished Duchess of Cleveland, who had not been her am- 
atory rival since the days of Jacob Hall, but she refused 
to concede the victory to Portsmouth and continued to 
argue her case. Aristocratic observers across the channel 
were smugly amused by Nell's constant skirmishes with 
Portsmouth. For the moment they saw the duchess as the 
winner. The King slept with her almost every night; she 

1 82 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

had a son by him, now acknowledged and presented with 
two duchies; she was heaping up wealth and making her- 
self feared and respected. But she had been unable to get 
rid of Nell Gwyn, by whom the King was "bewitched." 
He divided "his care, his time, and his health" between the 
two. Nell continued to insult Portsmouth, make faces at 
her, steal the King from her, and boast of his preference 
for herself. She was "young, wanton, brazen, debauched, 
and humorous," and she plied her trade "with a will." 

The French courtiers were not fond of the upstart 
Duchess of Portsmouth, and they quoted Nell's arguments 
with approval. "This duchess pretends to be a person of 
quality," Nell said. "She claims that everyone in France 
is her relation; the moment some great one dies she puts 
on mourning. Well! If she is of such high quality, why 
does she play the whore? She ought to die of shame. As 
for me, it's my profession; I do not pretend to anything 
else. The King keeps me, and I am constant to him at pres- 
ent. He has given me a son; I claim he ought to acknowl- 
edge him and I am sure he will, for he loves me as much 
as his Portsmouth." The wiseacres nodded happily and 
predicted more troubles for Portsmouth at the hands of 
this "creature." 

Parliament met again on October 13, and took up the 
same old weary round. The opposing parties were so 
evenly matched that nothing could be done. Buckingham 
and Shaftesbury called for a dissolution to be followed by 
a general election, but Danby preferred the known to the 
unknown evil. On November 16 both Houses were pro- 
rogued again. No money worth counting had been voted, 
and Danby immediately began a vigorous retrenchment, 

The Triple Combats 183 

cutting down on Court tables, "board wages, pensions, 
salaries, gifts, and what not." 

To the Duchess of Cleveland his action was the final 
straw. For some time she had been planning on going to 
France, ostensibly for the education of her children, actu- 
ally so that she could live in greater splendor on her in- 
come. Now that Danby was growling before the doors of 
the treasury and there was no hope for further gifts, she 
decided to go at once— an elastic term with her, since it 
took her three months to get ready. On March 13, 1676, 
she embarked with a retinue of forty people, with coaches, 
horses, and baggage. 

She had another reason for leaving. Following her an- 
nual custom she had separated amicably from her latest 
lover, Harry Savile, and welcomed to her bed Ralph Mon- 
tagu, Ambassador to France. She was too fond of Montagu 
to languish in England while he labored in France. Mon- 
tagu was married to Elizabeth, Countess of Northumber- 
land, the beautiful heiress whom Savile had once failed to 
seduce. Savile's new mistress was witty Lady Mary 
Scroope, widowed mother of the courtier-poet Sir Carr 
Scroope, who had himself once been in love with Cleve- 
land. It was all in the family. 

Cleveland's imminent departure made little difference to 
Nell, but Portsmouth was delighted. With the retirement 
of her senior colleague she could get what merchandise she 
would of the King. Already her splendid apartments in 
Whitehall were stocked with "massy pieces of plate," and 
"whole tables and stands of incredible value," furnishings 
ten times richer and more glorious than the Queen's. Ports- 
mouth saw nothing inappropriate in such a display. She 

184 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

was reported as telling her servants that "she was just as 
much the King's wife as the Queen, only she was not 
married by a bishop." As a wife by the left hand she 
claimed her rights in the King's worldly goods. 

But while she was happily planning new ways to evade 
the treasury's watchdog, her enemies were preparing an 
unpleasant surprise. Late in December, 1675, a cavaher 
came riding up the road from Torbay, attended by a well- 
mounted troop: five menservants, two women, and a small 
blackamoor. The little company clattered through the 
streets of London to Lady Elizabeth Harvey's house in 
Covent Garden; the cavalier dismounted, threw off muddy 
greatcoat, hat, and periwig, and disclosed the classic face 
and midnight-black hair of Hortense Mancini, Duchess of 
Mazarin. Another beauty had come to flutter the King's 

Hortense was thirty years old (five years older than 
Nell and middle-aged by Restoration standards) but her 
beauty was the kind which age could not wither nor de- 
bauchery stale. She was the youngest daughter of a noble 
Italian, Lorenzo Mancini, and favorite niece of the great 
Cardinal Mazarin (once Chief Minister of France), who 
left her a fortune on his death. At sixteen she was married 
to a peer of France, Armand Charles de la Ponte, Marquis 
de Meilleraye, who was created a duke and took the sur- 
name Mazarin, without the customary "de." It was not 
a happy marriage. Not only was Duke Mazarin incredibly 
jealous of his wife, he was also a religious bigot whose 
prudery amounted to mania. He destroyed nude statues 
with a hammer, defaced nude paintings, and even consid- 
ered it wildly indelicate for his maidservants to milk cows. 

The Triple Combats 185 

After six years of misery with her husband and four 
children (begotten in his lucid intervals) Hortense applied 
to King Louis for a separation and fled to a nunnery. She 
passed the next eight years either in convents (which she 
corrupted) or at small Italian courts where she became 
proficient in every known vice— and Italy was the seat of 
all knowledge. Quick-witted, well-read, and an intelligent 
conversationalist, she was also sensuous, unscrupulous, and 
completely amoral. Her most recent haven was the Duchy 
of Savoy, where she had created so much scandal by an 
open affair with Cesar Vichaud, Abbe de Saint-Real, that 
she was politely asked to leave. Now she had come to 
England, sure of a welcome from King Charles— who had 
made love to her in the days of his exile— and hopeful that 
there was an ember of his former fire still glowing. There 

The cojffeehouse gossips had a new topic of conversa- 
tion. They agreed that it would be ''more honorable for 
Great Britain to have its monarch subdued by a famous 
Roman dame than by an obscure damsel of Little Britain 
or by a frisking comedian." Since the romantic Mazarin 
was supposed to be immensely wealthy, it would be much 
cheaper too. Here the gossips were sadly mistaken. The 
Duke Mazarin demanded restoration of his conjugal rights 
and kept a firm grip on his wife's dowry, allowing her 
only about £400 a year. Eventually King Charles had to 
give her an allowance. 
The Duchess of Mazarin was managed bv Ladv Harvev 
{vice her scheming brother, Ralph Montagu), Lord Ar- 
lington, now the Duchess of Portsmouth's bitter enemy, 
and the French diplomat, Philiberte, Comte de Grammont 

1 86 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

(destined to become the hero of a famous memoir). The 
King was obviously infatuated with the Italian beauty and 
promptly set her up in apartments in St. James's Palace, 
but she was coy with him for some months— until she was 
sure that her husband would not increase her allowance. 
During those months the Court watched with joy the con- 
flict between the two estabHshed mistresses and the new 
pretender. The courtly old poet Edmund Waller, a friend 
to all three ladies, celebrated the rivalry in a mock-heroic 
poem, "The Triple Combat." Here was ''fair Mazarine," 
a new invader of the British Isles, hoping to make them 
yield again to Roman arms as they once had to Julius 
Caesar. Here was Portsmouth, heir to the power of Brit- 
tany, which had also conquered England in the remote 

Legions of Cupids to the battle come. 
For Little Brittain these, and those for Rome. 
Dressed to advantage, this illustrious pair, 
Arrived, for combat in the lists appear. 
What may the Fates design? For never yet 
From distant regions two such beauties met. 

Over the camp the Goddess of Victory hovered "with 
doubtful wings" until she spied Nell Gwyn, "the lovely 
Chloris," representative of the English forces, who 

well attended came. 
A thousand Graces waited on the dame; 
Her matchless form made all the English glad, 
And foreign beauties less assurance had. 
Yet, like the three on Ida's top, they all 
Pretend alike, contesting for the ball. 

The Triple Combats 187 

What indeed, did the Fates design? Although Waller dis- 
played his insularity by his implied preference for Nell, 
he refused to prophesy, preferring a well-drawn battle. 

Another poet, an anonymous political satirist who was 
no gentleman, dealt with the whole matter more coarsely: 

Since Cleveland is fled till she's brought to bed, 

And Nelly is quite forgotten. 
And Mazarine is as old as the Queen, 

And Portsmouth, the young whore, is rotten. 

Since women at helm have ruined the realm. 

And statesmen have lost their anchors. 
The Lords and the Commons know what will come on us, 

But the kingdom must break like the bankers. 

The politicians had reason to be disgruntled. After the 
prorogation of Parliament in November, 1675, the King 
had decided to do without the law-makers for a while 
and get along on his regular revenues, even though the 
trade boom had broken and his fixed income was falling. 
He was helped out by a gift of £100,000 from King Louis 
as a reward for keeping England out of the continental 
alliance against France. 

In the first quarter of 1676, while King Charles pursued 
the blushing Mazarin and Portsmouth went into a decline 
—her melancholy "increased by discontent at somebody's 
visiting the Duchess Mazarine at my Lady Harvey's"— 
Nell gradually withdrew from the competition to a neutral 
corner. Finally she was learning the full wisdom of Roches- 
ter's advice. She would "make sport" while she could; at 
other times she would "help it." Mazarin was far less dan- 
gerous to her than to Portsmouth. Let Charles have his 

1 88 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

fling with the lush adventuress; he would always return to 
Nell for fun and frolics. 

Portsmouth's winter of discontent became a springtide 
of sickness. News of her condition reached Rochester in 
exile, and with true Christian charity he wrote to Savile, 
"I am sorry for the declining duchess and would have you 
generous to her at this time, for that is true pride, and I 
delight in it." However his charity did not restrain him 
from joining in the poetic chorus. He sent his friends an 
obscene little squib, a "Dialogue," in which first Nell and 
then Portsmouth were made to boast of their orgiastic 
accomplishments and to cry damnation on that "great 
whore Mazarine" (tallest of all the mistresses). Then the 
King was allowed to speak of the joys of his harem and 
of how pleasant it was to make his heaven in a lady's lap 
while Mary Knight sang "her bawdy song." Finally the 
"People" cried out for Providence to protect their "faith's 
defender" from "Paris plots," 

From Mazarine, that new pretender, 
And from that politic Grammont. 

In May the Duchess of Portsmouth journeyed to Bath, 
recovering her health slowly through June and early July. 
On her return to London she had a chilly reception from 
the King when she stopped to dine with him at Windsor. 
Since she was not invited to stay she had to drive on to 
London that night. She was thin and worn after her long 
illness. To make matters worse she had somehow hurt one 
eye, which remained swollen and black for days. The 
Court jesters accused her of trying to transform herself 
into a brunette like the Duchess of Mazarin. Convinced 

The Triple Combats 189 

that the King was through with her, she wept almost con- 
stantly. One day Nell appeared in deep mourning for 
(she said) the discarded duchess and her dead hopes. 

Through the winter and spring Nell had been working 
quietly behind the scenes to improve her position. In Feb- 
ruary, 1676, she succeeded in getting a promise that the 
next Registrar in Chancery, an officer who enjoyed an 
income of £1500 a year, would be either her oldest son 
or his agent. (The office, then held by Baptist A4ay, did 
not revert to Nell's son until 1697.) At about the same 
time the King gave her the "grant of the logwood," a 
hereditary duty on all logs exported from the kingdom. 
These gifts were not finally official until November 24, 
when the King ordered the Secret Service to give Nell 
"£200 for horses and £162. 5s. od. for passing the patent 
of the grant of the logwood and the grant of the office of 
Registrar in Chancery in reversion." The grant of the log- 
wood began producing at once. It was "demised" by the 
King to one of Nell's friends, Lawrence Hyde, as her trus- 
tee, for the nominal fee of £5 a year. Hyde in turn 
"farmed" the tax (leased it to speculators who did the 
actual collecting) for an annual rent of £500, which the 
"farmers" paid to Nell. 

For the second half of the year Nell was practically 
the reigning mistress. The Duchess of Mazarin (the only 
one of the mistresses who owned and read books) was cul- 
tured, witty, and beautiful, but she lacked ambition and 
cared as much for the society of the handsome Prince of 
Monaco, the exiled old philosopher St. Evremonde (keep- 
er of the King's ducks!), or Cleveland's daughter, the 
young Countess of Sussex, as for that of the King himself. 

190 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

Charles came to treat her as only an occasional hght-of- 
love. In the autumn and winter he visited Portsmouth often 
by day, and he was always friendly toward her, but the 
worried French Ambassador, Honore Courtin, discovered 
that he passed his nights most often with Nell. In Decem- 
ber the Ambassador wrote sadly to King Louis that Charles 
had angered Portsmouth by *' drinking twice in twenty- 
four hours to the health of Nell Gwyn" with whom he 
supped regularly, and who "still made the Duchess of 
Portsmouth the butt of her tickling sarcasms." The French 
interest was suffering. 

During these months Nell worked hard on her main 
problem: recognition for her two sons. The matter was 
getting desperate. Young Charles was now six years old. 
At that age a well-bred boy was already started on his 
education, with masters to teach him dancing and deport- 
ment, and the household chaplain or a neighboring vicar 
for reading, writing, and the elements of Latin grammar. 
But if Nell ever wanted to enter her boy at one of the 
schools for sons of the gentry— Eton or Westminster, for 
example— he would not even have a surname under which 
to register. "Master Charles" was all very well for a child's 
name, but a six-year-old in a time when boys went to the 
universities at twelve and took degrees at sixteen was some- 
thing more than a child. 

The situation in the autumn of 1676 was favorable. Nell 
had many friends to help her, including the now restored 
Earl of Rochester. Cleveland and her noble brood were 
safely in France. Not only was Portsmouth's son, the Duke 
of Richmond, well taken care of (he was Master of the 
Horse at the tender age of four) , but the French mistress, 

The Triple Combats 191 

who might have frustrated NelFs plans through sheer 
malice, was temporarily powerless. Quiet Moll Davis, in- 
stalled in a new house in St. James's Square, made no 
audible demands for herself and her daughter. 

That gossip, Tradition, has handed down two delightful 
(and contradictory) fables about the means Nell used to 
get her son a peerage. According to one of these, the King 
was coming up a garden path to visit Nell when she ap- 
peared at an upper window with the boy in her arms and 
threatened to throw him out unless he was ennobled at 
once. With remarkable presence of mind the King cried, 
"God save the Earl of Burford!" According to the second 
fable, one day in the King's presence Nell called to young 
Charles, "Come hither, you little bastard." When the King 
gently reproved her for her language, she replied that "she 
had no better name to call him by." His Majesty took the 
hint and provided the child with a whole string of aris- 
tocratic names! 

The truth of the matter is that King Charles had always 
intended to acknowledge NelFs children, in spite of their 
half-base blood. He was an indolent man who needed 
constant prodding, but he was also patient; he knew how 
to wait and mature his plans slowly. Everything he had 
done for Nell so far— her house, her pension, her place in 
the Queen's Privy Chamber, and the two new grants to 
her that year— had prepared the way for the next step. 
Now the time seemed ripe. Parliament was not in session 
to cry out; the grandees of the Court had become so accus- 
tomed to Nell that they were not likely to complain at the 
elevation of a commoner's children; and Danbv had his 
hands full preparing for the next meeting of Parliament. 

192 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

Sometime in November Nell's constant pleading com- 
bined with circumstances to bring about the King's de- 
cision. In that month he started the legal mills grinding 
on three projects at once: a patent creating young Charles 
an earl, a grant of £1,000 a year as his allowance, and— to 
make some provision for little James— a scheme to buy the 
freehold of Nell's house and deed it to her, with inherit- 
ance and remainder secured for James. 

The first of these projects was the first completed. On 
December 21, 1676, a warrant was passed for "a grant 
to Charles Beauclerc, the King's natural son, and to the 
heirs male of his body, of the dignities of Baron of Hed- 
dington, co.Oxford, and Earl of Burf ord in the same coun- 
ty, with remainder to his brother, James Beauclerc, and 
the heirs male of his body." The surname, Beauclerc, was 
a meaningless invention. The titles were the names of two 
Oxfordshire towns; Burford was the scene of a famous 
horserace, held annually. To make his acknowledgement 
complete, a few weeks later the King granted both chil- 
dren the usual right to wear the royal arms crossed with a 
bar sinister, and to James (as an earl's younger brother and 
heir-presumptive) he gave "the title of Lord Beauclerc, 
with the place and precedence of the eldest son of an 

The other two projects, which involved money and 
real estate, naturally took longer. The £1,000 pension for 
Lord Burford was not finally settled upon him until April 
9, 1677; the money, of course, was paid to Nell as his 
guardian. The real estate deal was set in motion as early as 
December i, 1676, when by an elaborate deed under the 
Privy Seal the King gave the Earl of St. Albans, builder 

The Triple Combats 193 

and owner of Nell's house, three and a half acres of land 
near Soho in exchange for his equity. But there were so 
many claims, leases, and half -rights in the Pall Mall prop- 
erty that the whole business was not finally settled until 
April 6, 1677. Then a whole bundle of deeds, abstracts, 
and a great "Indenture Tripartite" were signed, and out 
of the sea of parchment Nell emerged triumphant, with 
the rights to "have, hold, occupy, possess, and enjoy" her 
house, "peaceably and quietly" for the rest of her life. The 
inheritance was vested in Nell's younger son, "the Right 
Honorable James, Lord Beauclerc," and in the event of his 
death without heirs, in his brother Charles. 

Here now were riches and security for Nell and her 
sons. But her heart was never so full as on that cold, snowy 
day just before the Christmas of 1676, when she was 
handed her son's patent as Earl of Burford— the culmina- 
tion of six years of plotting, pleading, and wheedling. At 
last her first-born was an earl, a peer of the realm with a 
seat in the House of Lords when he reached his majority, 
as much a gentleman as any of the royal bastards. By virtue 
of his elevation Nell herself was now the equal of the 
Court ladies who had once complained that they "could 
not abide to converse" with her, or had called her "whore" 
to her face. It was a wonderful feeling. For the next few 
weeks she continued to receive the congratulations of 
friends and acquaintances— even the Duchess of Mazarin 
sent her compliments. 

Nell, the ex-barmaid, should have been satisfied; For- 
tune had been more than bountiful. But she was still am- 
bitious; her son was "as fit to be made a duke as anv of the 
others." Moreover, what of her second son, a lord only by a 

194 ^^^^ Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

technicality? Two of Cleveland's sons were dukes and the 
third was an earl. Were her boys any better than Nell's? 
Finally, and by no means hopelessly, Nell still pursued 
the beckoning vision of a coronet for herself. Countess of 
something-or-other she would be, or know the reason why! 




I 6 J J - I 6 J 8 



NE OF Nell's pleasanter duties was to dress up of 
an afternoon in her best gown with a mantle and hood and 
call on her feminine friends. She visited all sorts and con- 
ditions of ladies: Mary Knight, the Countess of Portland, 
Arabella Churchill, Lady Harvey, Mrs. Frances Jennings 
(mother of the future Duchess of Marlborough), Lady 
Mary Mordaunt, Lady Susan Williams, and her old friend 
Lady Shrewsbury, who was now shriven of her sins and 
very acceptable at Court. Early in the new year Nell was 
kept happily at work calling on the many ladies who had 
sent their congratulations on her son's advancement. 

One winter day Ambassador Courtin, an amiable little 
man, was visiting the Duchess of Mazarin at her apartments 
in St. James's Palace when the Duchess of Portsmouth was 
ushered in. Hardly had the newcomer been greeted than 
Lady Harvey sailed in, towing Nell Gwyn, who had come 
to thank the Duchess of Mazarin for her compliments. 
There was a moment of awkward silence; then the Italian 
duchess took command, and soon all four ladies were chat- 
ting gaily with only a hint of the feline in their perfect 

Portsmouth was the first to go. She had hardly left the 
room than Nell turned upon the nervous ambassador and 
boldly demanded why the King of France "did not send 
presents to her instead of to the weeping \\'illow who had 


198 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

just gone out?" Before Courtin could answer she swept 
on in her impetuous style: it would be to France's profit 
to send her gifts; King Charles liked her better than he 
did Portsmouth; indeed, he slept with her almost every 
night. Modest little Courtin shuddered, cringed, and tem- 
porized; he hardly knew how to answer this indelicate bid 
for bribes. Madame Mazarin adroitly turned the conversa- 
tion. She had heard stories about Nell's luxurious under- 
garments, she said. Could she be permitted to see them with 
her own eyes? Flattered, Nell stood up, and the two other 
ladies raised her petticoats one by one, exclaiming with 
delight at the laces and fine linens. Courtin was not em- 
barrassed by a display of this kind. He wrote to Louvois, 
the grim French Minister of State, "I never in all my life 
saw such thorough cleanliness, neatness, and sumptuosity. 
I should speak of other things that all were shown . . . 
but with you I must be grave and proper!" 

Usually when Nell and Portsmouth were thrown to- 
gether at social functions, Nell observed the amenities. In 
smaller gatherings she delighted in annoying "the weeping 
willow" in every possible way. One night, so the story 
goes, when Nell, the duchess, and the King were supping 
together, there were two boiled chickens on the table. In 
a flippant moment, Portsmouth claimed that she could 
make three out of the two. " 'That cannot be,' says Nell. 
*Why,' says Portsmouth, 'there's one, and there's two, and 
one and two makes three.' Tes,' says Nell, 'so they do,' 
and putting one on the King's plate and another on her 
own, bid Portsmouth take the third for her pains." 

Since there were still honors to be gained for their sons 
and money for themselves, the rivalry between the two 

Intrigues and Politics 199 

mistresses was as intense as ever. The happy hunting 
ground for courtesans was Ireland, where, as the result of 
war, rebellion, and Cromwell's colonizing, there were 
many estates with clouded titles. Guided by an informer 
(who took a percentage of the profits) one of the King's 
favorites could put in a claim for a property, push it 
through the Irish Court of Claims with the King's war- 
rants as levers, and dispossess and beggar the nominal own- 
er. Such actions were legal, and therefore moral. Equally 
legal, if somewhat ghoulish, was a practice much favored 
by the Duchess of Portsmouth: getting the King to grant 
her the forfeited estates of suicides and executed criminals. 
Early in the spring of 1677 Nell tried a cast in the Irish 
fishpond. The King granted her a warrant for certain dis- 
puted lands, and, with the Earl of Rochester as her trustee 
for greater prestige, she submitted her claim to the Lord 
Lieutenant of Ireland. After the issue had lagged for three 
months in the Court of Claims, Nell, working through 
Secretary Coventry, tried to get the King to put pressure 
on the Court. Drily commenting that "women seldom 
understood their own business," His iMajesty refused. 
There could be only one outcome, of course, but it took 
time for the obliging Irish officials to browbeat other 
suitors and persuade them to withdraw their claims. In 
November the properties were granted to Nell. They 
were "farmed" for her benefit by her then trustees, Charles 
(Buckhurst), Earl of Middlesex, and Thomas Felton, one 
of the Duke of York's gentlemen. On November 26 her 
old friend Sir Robert Howard (now Auditor of the Ex- 
chequer) wrote to thank Lord Lieutenant Ormonde in 
Nell's name. "She vows she loves you entirely," he con- 

200 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

eluded. She had reason: her annual income was increased 
by £800. 

For Nell this was only a lucrative sideshow; the main 
events of her year were political. Early in 1677 she had 
come to Lord Treasurer Danby with an appeal that he 
"strive to make her a countess." Upon his flat refusal she 
became more closely allied than ever with his bitter 
enemies, the leaders of the Country Party. 

When Parliament met on February 1 5 after a recess of 
fourteen months, Shaftesbury and his colleagues played a 
legal quibble as a trump card, moving that, since an act of 
Edward III requiring annual sessions had been violated, 
Parliament was automatically dissolved. There had been 
no general election since 1661. The Country members 
were eager for a dissolution, sure that the consequent new 
election would result in greatly increasing their now slim 
majority in the House of Commons. (The members of 
the House of Lords, of course, did not stand for election.) 
On the other hand, the Court members dreaded a new 
election and fought bitterly against every move for dis- 
solution. Now, with a clear majority in the House of 
Lords, they took the trick by first voting down the mo- 
tion, then ordering the mutineers— Shaftesbury, Bucking- 
ham, Salisbury, and Wharton— to apologize, and finally, 
when they refused, clapping them in the Tower. There 
they were to stay until they recanted their heresy and 
apologized to the King and the House. Deprived of their 
leaders and fearful of a war with France, the Country 
Party in the House of Commons found a last refuge in 
patriotism and voted the King £600,000 to build warships. 

All through the spring and summer the four stubborn 

Intrigues and Politics 201 

lords languished in durance which was irksome if not vile. 
They were not allowed to confer together, and no one 
could visit them without permission from the King or the 
House of Lords. But they had comfortable apartments, 
their own servants, and everything they wanted except 
their liberty. After a futile attempt to gain his freedom by 
a habeas corpus, Shaftesbury turned his fiery mind to the 
study of literature and geography. Buckingham set up a 
laboratory in his chamber and amused himself with 

His friends of "the merry gang" (as Andrew Alarvell 
called them)— Nell, Lords Rochester and Middlesex, 
Savile, Bab May, and others— did what they could for 
Buckingham at some danger to themselves. They were all 
placeholders at the King's pleasure, and the men were 
technically members of the Court Party— Savile, the last 
of them to enter Parliament, was elected a member from 
Newark in April, 1677. Nevertheless, that May the Earl 
of Middlesex dared royal disfavor by presenting the King 
with a petition from Buckingham. Charles refused it, sav- 
ing grimly that "though there was great humility to him- 
self, there was none to the Lords." Danby \\ ould have 
been only too happy to keep his enemies locked up 

While Buckingham fumed behind bars, Louis XIV 
continued to win victories in Europe; King Charles, tak- 
ing money from France to keep out of continental affairs, 
prepared to double-cross his royal cousin by marrying the 
Duke of York's oldest daughter, Princess Mary, to AVil- 
liam of Orange; the Duchess of Cleveland came back to 
England briefly to marry her daughter Charlotte to the 

202 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

Earl of Lichfield, Lord Rochester's nephew, and then re- 
turned to France to strike up an alliance with a new bon 
ami, Alexis Henry, Marquis de Chatillon; Nell Gwyn 
finally got her house free and clear of all encumbrance; 
Lady Shrewsbury married George Rodney Bridges, a wit 
noted for heavy-headed reveling; and on May 28 Parlia- 
ment was prorogued. The merry gang trimmed their sails 
on a new tack. 

It was safe enough for Nell to visit Buckingham. One 
day early in June she drove to the Tower armed with a 
note to the duke from Lord Middlesex: "The best woman 
in the world brings you this paper and at this time the dis- 
creetest"— a significant comment! "Pray, my lord, resign 
your understanding and your interest wholly to her con- 
duct; mankind is to be redeemed by Eve. With as much 
honor as the thing will admit of, separate your concern 
from your fellow-prisoners; then an expedient handsome 
enough and secret enough to disengage yourself [will be 
found]. Obey and you are happy." 

The mouse would free the elephant, perhaps even get 
him restored to favor. Nell told Buckingham that King 
Charles was secretly well-disposed toward him and would 
be glad to set him free without formal apologies, but that 
he disliked opposing Danby, Portsmouth, and the Duke of 
York. But with some more cloak-and-dagger stuff and a 
personal appeal to the King, Buckingham's old friend and 
comrade-in-arms, much might be done. Between them, 
Nell and Buckingham drew up a letter to the King which 
began, "I am so surprised with what Mrs. Nelly has told 
me that I know not in the world what to say." At some 
length, then, Buckingham described his grief at the sup- 

Intrigues and Politics 203 

posed loss of His Majesty's favor and his joy at the news 
that some affection for him still lingered in the royal 

The groundwork was prepared; now the ministers of 
pleasure proceeded with their "expedient." A few days 
later Buckingham wrote again, begging the King for an 
interview. To blind his enemies he proposed a few days' 
liberty for the avowed purpose of visiting the mansion he 
was building at Cliveden. On June 21 his request was 
granted. Accompanied by his jailer, the lieutenant of the 
Tower, he set forth, but (according to plan) so late in the 
day that he got no farther than his house in Dowgate, 
where he spent the night. There were mysterious doings 
that night: coaches drove up to his door and gossips hinted 
that among the cloaked visitors was a tall man wdth a regal 
bearing. The next day Buckingham and his guards posted 
fifty-two miles to and from Cliveden and were back in 
the Tower by dusk. That night, with his missions accom- 
plished, Buckingham wrote cheerfully to Middlesex, "My 
lord, I am now very busy drinking your lordship's health, 
and shall very shortly have the honor to receive your and 
Mrs. Nelly's commands." 

His next step was a petition for "a month's air" to coun- 
teract the effect of "several indispositions" resulting from 
his imprisonment. At their end the ministers of pleasure 
wheedled and coaxed to good purpose; early in July Buck- 
ingham was granted a leave which soon became "an entire 
liberty." Instead of returning to his house in Dowgate, he 
went to stay with Lord Rochester in Whitehall, where he 
led his usual carefree life. At about the same time Lords 
Salisbury and Wharton were released upon their abject 

204 Nell Gnjoyn: Royal Mistress 

submission. Only Shaftesbury remained in the Tower, 
hugging his chains and his principles. 

The ministers of state were very uneasy that summer; 
there were too many occasions when Buckingham and 
the King were "very merry" together in Rochester's 
lodgings, and there was talk that Buckingham might be 
given a place at Court as Lord Steward of the Household. 
Danby, Portsmouth, and York lectured the King on the 
"indecency" of Buckingham's conduct and argued that 
the royal authority was being flouted. In August the King 
gave way and ordered the duke to leave Whitehall. Placid- 
ly he moved across the Park to Pall Mall, where he spent 
the rest of the summer as Nell's guest. For the ministers of 
state this was even worse. The King went almost daily to 
visit Nell, and the ministers of pleasure had a free hand. 
One of Buckingham's favorite tricks was to mimic the 
dignity of Lord Danby, while Nell burlesqued the treasur- 
er's pompous wife. The King looked on "with great de- 
light", and the politicians fretted lest the trifling jest 
portend Danby's fall. 

To Danby himself it seemed that Nell was the key to 
the whole situation. From Newmarket he wrote to his 
wife on September 28, ordering her to visit the young 
Earl of Burford "without any message to Nelly"— thus 
indicating Danby's disapproval. "And when Mrs. Turner 
[the boy's governess] is with you, bid her tell Nelly you 
wonder she should be your lord's enemy that has always 
been so kind to her, but you wonder much more to find 
her supporting only those who are known to be the King's 
enemies, for in that you are sure she does ill." 

Nell was not to be moved by smooth talk. She wanted 

Intrigues and Politics 205 

only one thing from the Lord Treasurer— a patent of 
nobility— and failing that she remained "at perfect defiance 
with him." She continued to support the Country Party 
that autumn, and often had its leaders to sup with His 
Majesty. The new French Ambassador, Barillon, worried 
almost as much over the goings-on in Pall Mall as over the 
marriage of WilHam of Orange and Princess Mary (on 
November 4). Since it was essential to keep England 
neutral while France pursued its conquests, Barillon 
poured out bribes to all parties with a lavish hand. 

Of course, not all of Nell's guests were politicians. She 
loved people and collected all kinds. There was Sir Can 
Scroope, for example, a queer little fellow, half courtier 
and half poet, dubbed the "ugly beau-gargon" by Lord 
Rochester, with whom he was carrying on a poetical war. 
Nell amused herself by letting Sir Carr make love to her 
in her idle moments. She became quite fond of him. An- 
other oddity was William Fanshaw, a lean, poverty- 
stricken courtier who held the small office of Master of 
Requests and boasted of the fact that his wife, Mary 
(Lucy Walter's daughter by the Earl of Carlingford), 
was the Duke of Monmouth's half-sister, and therefore 
flavored with royalty. That autumn Fanshaw became a 
father, and Nell, his great friend, advised him not to spend 
his small stock of money on a pompous christening, but to 
"reserve himself a little to buy him new shoes that he 
might not dirty her rooms, and a new periwig that she 
might not smell him stink two stories high" when he 
knocked at her door. 

Another frequent guest was the actress Elizabeth Bar- 
ry, whose long commerce with Lord Rochester bore fruit 

2o6 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

early in December. Savile wrote to his lordship in the 
country the news that he had a daughter "borne of the 
body of Mrs. Barry." He quoted Nell, the lady's "friend 
and protectrice ... in the Mali'' as lamenting Elizabeth's 
poverty and the fact that she "lay in" without the usual 
show and finery appropriate to parturition. Nell had made 
some sharp remarks about Rochester's "want either of 
generosity or bowels" toward a lady who had permitted 
him the full enjoyment of her charms. Rochester was seri- 
ously ill at the time, but Nell's reproaches stirred him to 
action. He demonstrated his "bowels" by sending Eliza- 
beth a box of clothing and money, and by writing to her 
of his satisfaction at her safe delivery and his pleasure that 
the child was of "the soft sex" he loved. 

Then, as usual, there was mad Harry Killigrew, the un- 
predictable. In November Nell condoled with him when 
his wife died and he lamented not only her loss but also 
the fact that he was now free to "play the fool again" and 
remarry. A month later he made her the butt of a stupid 
joke. Early in December the Duchess of Portsmouth was 
so seriously ill that her death was anticipated by a number 
of hopeful Court ladies. Suddenly she took a turn for the 
better. At four o'clock one morning, Kilhgrew, soundly 
drunk, hammered on Nell's door, and when she thrust her 
night-capped head out of an upstairs window he an- 
nounced that he had come "to acquaint her with the good 
news of the Duchess of Portsmouth's recovery." After 
that he "raUied her with his abusive tongue extremely." 
This was too much even for good-natured Nell; she com- 
plained to the King, and Killigrew was banished for a pe- 
riod of penitence. 

Intrigues and Politics 207 

It was truly a miscellany of people who came to Nell's 
house bent on business or pleasure— rich lords and ladies, 
politicians, tradesmen, actresses, minor officials, poets, and 
the undefinable Killigrew. One among them was either a 
souvenir hunter or a thief. In the London Gazette for 
January 3, 1678, Nell advertised the loss of a small piece 
of plate, ''marked with the cipher E.G., flourished, weigh- 
ing about 18 ounces," and offered a reward for the cap- 
ture of the thief. 

The year 1677 ended with Portsmouth relapsing and 
proving Killigrew a liar. Although she promised her con- 
fessor that "in case of recovery she should have no com- 
merce with that known enemy to virginity and chastity, 
the monarch of Great Britain," and would enter a nun- 
nery, she continued seriously ill throughout the wdnter. 
Even from her sickbed, where, crucifix in hand, she lec- 
tured the King on his evil ways, she was still a power in 
the state. When Parliament convened on January 28, 
1678, the leaders of the Country Party— including Shaftes- 
bury who had wasted a year in prison— recanted, apolo- 
gized, and were restored to the seats of the mighty. 
Buckingham had high hopes of returning to the ministry, 
but Danby, his fell and mighty opposite, was a shrewd 
leader, and back of Danby were the wiles of Portsmouth. 
Only Nell Gwyn supported Buckingham. His friends of 
the Country Party rightly feared his motives, and al- 
though the King turned readily to Nell and Buckingham 
for amusement, he took his advice from Danby and Ports- 
mouth. Buckingham was limited to aiding Shaftesbury^ in 
his rule-or-ruin tactics: urging war with France while 
denying the King funds for an army and navy. The spring 

2o8 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

of 1678 was a time of troubles, plots, intrigues, and 

In the boiling turmoil about the throne it was a case of 
every man for himself, and friendships fell before self-in- 
terest. Ralph Montagu, Ambassador to France and a very- 
charming scoundrel, wanted to be Secretary of State in 
the place of Henry Coventry, who was preparing to re- 
tire. Portsmouth, who had fully recovered by April (and 
the devil a nun was she), professed friendship for Mon- 
tagu. So did Lord Danby, Lawrence Hyde, Henry Savile, 
and Nell Gwyn. But the moment Coventry announced 
his willingness to resign, knives flashed and the battle 
was on. 

Montagu learned that Coventry, Buckingham, Hyde, 
Savile, and Nell had formed a "cabal." Coventry offered 
his place to Hyde for £10,000 plus Hyde's promise to 
sell his place as Master of the Robes to Savile (Coventry's 
nephew) . Needing money to pay for the new post, Savile 
asked the Duchess of Cleveland to get him the King's per- 
mission to sell his present post as Groom of the Bedchamber 
to still another party. Somehow, in this game of musical 
chairs, Buckingham was to become a Gentleman of the Bed- 
chamber again. Nell's interest in the plot was double: to 
help her own friends, and to see that "no friend of my 
Lord Treasurer's" became Secretary of State. 

Complaining that it was not "very well in Mr. Savile 
... to manage such an aifair underhand," Montagu 
turned to his supposed allies for help and found that Ports- 
mouth (who had never forgiven him for "managing" the 
Duchess of Mazarin) would not stir in his behalf, and that 
Danby was already "engaged" for the secretaryship to Sir 

Intrigues and Politics 209 

William Temple. Hurt but undaunted, from across the 
channel Montagu conducted his campaign according to 
the honorable rules of backstairs war. To destroy Cleve- 
land's influence over the King and keep her from aiding 
Savile, he intercepted some of her torrid letters to her 
latest lover, the Marquis de Chatillon, and sent them to 
King Charles. To ruin both Portsmouth and Nell at one 
sweep he instructed his sister, Lady Harvey (one of Nell's 
best friends), to angle for the King's favor with a new 
mistress as bait. To injure Buckingham he collected and 
sent to Danby all the damaging information he could find 
about the duke's activities. Meanwhile he carefully saved 
Lord Danby's private letters as possible weapons for the 

Although Nell was in the center of this sticky maze, 
she never quite knew what was going on. Everybody (ex- 
cept, of course, Portsmouth and Danby) was her friend, 
and everybody used her for his own ends. Warm-hearted, 
indiscreet, and trustful, Nell moved according to impulse 
and mood; she was incapable of sustained plotting. Her 
few letters are perfect mirrors of her mind. 

Early in May, 1678, Nell sent a gossipy little note 
(dictated to an amanuensis) to Lawrence Hyde, who \^^as 
then at Nimuegen as one of the negotiators for a peace 
treaty between Holland and France. It was a pleasant, 
frank letter, dealing chiefly with trivia, and wTitten with 
blithe unconcern for the spinning web of Court intrigues. 
She began by apologizing for her long silence, the result, 
she said, of a three months' illness— not serious enough to 
keep her from good company ^^ here she had never failed 
to drink Hyde's health. Skimming off the first subject that 

2IO Nell Gnjoyn: Royal Mistress 

floated to the top of her mind she complained that Pall 
Mall was a dismal place now since she had "utterly lost 
Sir Carr Scroope, never to be recovered again." Sir Carr 
had become importunate, had told her that "he could not 
live always at this rate," and had begun to be "a little un- 
civil." Such behavior was not to be endured from an "ugly 
beau gargon," and she had been forced to turn him away. 
But she hated to lose any friend, even a false one. 

Without transition, she turned to random items of news. 
Mall Knight's mother had just died, and Mall had put up 
a mourning escutcheon no larger than that hung out by 
Lady Greene's bereaved family earlier in the year. Lord 
Rochester, in town for part of April, had returned to the 
country. Savile was suffering from an attack of pox, but 
he was "upon recovery" and had a chance to marry an 
heiress, who would find him a good husband— "if he holds 
up his thumb," said Nell wickedly. Lord Middlesex (now 
Earl of Dorset) was wasting his days drinking ale with 
Thomas Shadwell, the dramatist, and Henry Harris, an 
actor at the Duke's Theatre. Young James, Lord Beau- 
clerc, was getting ready to go to France, where there were 
excellent schools. Casually, as if she had no notion of what 
was going on, Nell mentioned that she was to sup that 
night at Whitehall with the King and Lady Harvey. But 
the mention of Lady Harvey reminded her that she too 
was supposed to be a politician. "Now let's talk of state 
affairs," she said, "for we [the Country Party] never car- 
ried things so cunningly as now, for we don't know 
whether we shall have peace or war, but I am for war, and 
for no other reason but that you may come home. I have 
a thousand merry conceits, but I can't make her [the blush- 

Intrigues and Politics 2 1 1 

ing amanuensis] write 'em, and therefore you must take 
the will for the deed." 

If Nell was fooled by such plotters as Lady Harvey, 
her friends were not. They knew that, in obedience to 
Montagu's instructions, Lady Harvey had formed an al- 
liance with Mrs. Jane Myddleton, and that the two ladies 
were trying to "bring into play" Mrs. Myddleton's six- 
teen-year-old daughter, Jenny, a slender, lovely girl, 
whose father (said the gossips) was Ralph Montagu. Scent- 
ing the plot, Portsmouth succeeded in barring the Myddle- 
tons and their manager from the King's apartments, and 
Lady Harvey was working through the unsuspicious 

Early in June, Henry Savile sent an account of the af- 
fair to Lord Rochester. Lady Harvey (he wrote), "having 
little opportunity of seeing Charlemagne upon her own 
account, wheedles poor Mrs. Nelly into supping twice or 
thrice a week at W. Chiffinch's and carrying her with her; 
so that in good earnest this poor creature is betrayed by 
her ladyship to pimp against herself, for there her ladyship 
whispers and contrives all matters to her own ends, as the 
other might easily perceive if she were not too giddy to 
mistrust a false friend." Of course Nell would pay no at- 
tention to a mere letter from Rochester, Savile concluded, 
but perhaps some directions might be sent to a third party 
—that skilful old warrior Lady Southesk, for example. 

With the wisdom of an experienced courtier Rochester 
refused to meddle. In his reply he merely restated the ad- 
vice he had given Nell years ago; in effect he counseled 
patience and watchful waiting. Somewhat doubtfully 
Savile accepted his friend's advice and did nothing. Mean- 

2 12 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

while Nell went her cheerful way, sublimely unconcerned 
about her danger. 

But Providence, disguised as the Duchess of Cleveland, 
was already at work on Nell's side. Returning to England 
in May, the duchess found that Montagu had betrayed her 
intrigue with Chatillon. Coldly received by the King, she 
could do nothing either for herself or for her ex-lover, 
Savile. Frustrated and bitter, she returned to France in a 
murderous mood. To her mingled joy and horror she 
found that during her absence Montagu had debauched 
her daughter— and the King's— Anne, Countess of Sussex, 
and had been living with her "in most open scandal to the 
wonder of the French Court." Cleveland poured out her 
malice and wrath in tumultuous letters to King Charles, 
who promptly sent reproofs and commands to his daugh- 
ter. When Lady Sussex paid no heed to her father's letters 
he sent the Earl of Sunderland to replace Montagu as am- 
bassador, and Henry Savile as his personal agent to dis- 
cipline the wayward countess. 

Suddenly the game of musical chairs came to an end, 
with Montagu flat on the floor. Hastily returning to Eng- 
land in July, Montagu found that he had over-reached 
himself; not only were his plots spoiled and his chances of 
preferment lost, but he was dismissed from all his offices 
and forbidden the Court. Unable to obtain an audience 
with the King and deserted by Danby, he reversed his 
vestments, fled to the arms of the Country Party, and be- 
came Danby's deadliest enemy. In the confusion of chang- 
ing scenery and sides, the post of Secretary of State, the 
prize for which Montagu had plotted, remained in Coven- 
try's possession (two years later he sold it to Sir Leoline 

Intrigues and Politics , 213 

Jenkins). But several of the other players in the deadly 
little game moved to other chairs. In August Lawrence 
Hyde became ambassador to Holland and sold his place as 
Master of the Robes to a friend, Sidney Godolphin, who 
in turn sold his place as Groom of the Bedchamber to 
Lady Shrewsbury for her new husband, George Bridges. 
Early in the next year Harry Savile replaced Ambassador 
Sunderland in Paris, but with the lesser rank of Envoy to 
France. He was a very successful diplomat. 

During the summer of 1678, Buckingham continued to 
dodge around, intriguing with everybody in sight and 
vainly seeking an empty chair. Lady Harvey shared the 
disgrace of her brother, Montagu, and found even the 
backstairs closed to her. Her protege, Jenny Myddleton, 
damned by association, threw herself headlong into matri- 
mony. Peacefully unconcerned about the whole com- 
plicated business, Nell Gwyn trotted off with the King in 
August to spend the rest of the summer at Windsor. 
Heaven protects the poor working girl. 

Meanwhile, in the spring and summer of 1678, interna- 
tional politics and the war in Europe had come to a new 
crisis. France, which had been slowly crushing the con- 
federacy headed by William of Orange, had declared a 
two months' armistice, and offered Holland a treaty of 
peace on very hard terms. In England the Country Party 
had been clamoring for intervention on the side of the 
Dutch, while prudently refusing the King's requests for 
money to equip an army and navy. Charles had been tak- 
ing money from King Louis to stay out of Europe— and so 
had quite a few members of the Country Party— but he 
was using the money to build up a standing army. By 

2 14 ^^^^ Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

marrying his niece, the Princess Mary, to his nephew, 
Wilham of Orange, he had in effect declared for the 
Dutch, and he had even sent a brigade of 3 ,000 men to aid 
the confederates. He was trying to strengthen his own 
position at home and abroad, bring the war in Em:ope to 
an end by threats of intervention, and stay out of war 

The Country Party, fearful of standing armies and 
"popery and wooden shoes"— the symbols of slavery— did 
everything it could to spoil the King's game. When it 
blocked his request for funds early in the summer, King 
Louis thought he had nothing to fear, withdrew his offer 
to Holland, and set his armies in motion. In July, King 
Charles countered with a desperate bluff: he sent emissaries 
to Holland offering an alliance unless France agreed to 
peace. Exhausted by six years of war, Louis agreed to quit 
for a while. On July 31 the Treaty of Nimuegen was 
signed. Holland was saved, but France was left with vastly 
increased territories and power. England remained torn 
by internal dissension, a prey to all kinds of doubts and 

But at Windsor, August and September were wonder- 
ful months. The weather was hot and dry; the days were 
calm. ParUament was prorogued until October; Ports- 
mouth stayed at Whitehall, tearing down and rebuilding 
her lodgings; Buckingham Uved in Nell's Pall Mall house 
except for the times when he flitted mysteriously across 
the channel to France on some new, wild project; the 
wicked Montagu had ceased from troubling for the nonce; 
and, on the surface at least, all the world was at peace. 
What with hawking and fishing, the company of the King, 

Intrigues and Politics 1 1 5 

her small sons, and her many friends, Nell had a happy- 

But for those who chose to look, there were evil omens: 
eclipses of the sun and moon— perennial portents of dis- 
aster—rumors of fires, uprisings in Scotland, and midnight 
massacres in the making. When King Charles brought his 
Court back to London in late September he found his 
council listening to a strange tale told by one Titus Oates, 
an unfrocked clergyman with a broad red face, long chin, 
vast mouth, and brazen voice. He described an interna- 
tional conspiracy by the Pope and his prelates, the King 
of France, and hundreds of English Catholic lords to as- 
sassinate the King, place the Duke of York on the throne, 
and impose the Catholic faith on England by fire and 
sword. Charles scojffed at the whole business, laughed at 
the talk of murderers with foot-long knives and silver bul- 
lets, and took his family off to Newmarket. Over London 
the storm grew blacker, but on the northern downs the 
weather was still fair. 

At Newmarket Nell enjoyed herself as usual with the 
exciting races, the parties, dances, shows by strolling play- 
ers, and all the fun the little town could provide. One day 
she even took a side trip to see near-by Cambridge, ac- 
companied by Lord Dorset's friend and agent, Fleetwood 
Shepherd. The gentle pedagogues at Cambridge Univer- 
sity had one eye for beauty and one for Court favor; they 
entertained her royally and scratched up some hasty verses 
in her honor. She was accustomed to Hterary adulation. 
Earher that year a notable scholar, one Robert Whitcomb, 
had dedicated to her his Jamia Divonmi, a collection of 
lives of gods and goddesses. He informed the hterate world 

2i6 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

that Nell had the "primitive wisdom" of Apollo, the 
"pristine wit" of Mercury, the "greatness of mind" of 
Juno, the "delicate beauty" of Venus, and the "God-like 
courage and brave spirit" of Hercules. For some reason 
Whitcomb did not think to compare her with Diana. 

On October i6 the Court returned to London. The 
next day the body of Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, the 
magistrate who had taken Oates' first deposition about the 
CathoHc plot, was found on Primrose Hill, Hampstead. 
His collar was twisted about his neck as if he had been 
strangled; there were dark bruises on his breast; and his 
own sword was thrust through his heart. On October 2 1 , 
as a wave of hysteria flooded England and washed to the 
farthest corners of the island, Oates was called before the 
House of Commons to declare what he knew about God- 
frey's murder and the existence of a popish plot. The 
storm had broken. 



1 6 J 8 - I 6 8 



.OR TWO YEARS England engaged in a vast witch- 
hunt, motivated by bHnd terror, spurred on by the lies of 
Titus Oates and his fellow informers, Tonge, Bedloe, and 
Prance, and whipped to fury by the leaders of the Coun- 
try Party, who, if they did not invent the so-called Popish 
Plot, used it to the fullest for their own ends, careless how 
many innocents might die. On the flimsiest possible evi- 
dence three men were hanged for Godfrey's murder; yet 
to this day the real criminal has not been certainly identi- 
fied. Fourteen Roman CathoHcs— lords and commoners- 
were executed for complicity in the plot. Thirty-eight 
priests were condemned to death; of these twenty-one died 
in prison, three were executed, and fourteen were re- 
prieved. Of all the victims of the panic, only one, Cole- 
man, the Duchess of York's secretary, was guilty of a 
crime— in his case no more than a foolish correspondence 
with a French Jesuit. 

Everybody— except, of course, the King and the cynical 
Country lords— believed in the plot and lived in deadly 
fear of phantom cut-throats and French invaders. All men 
went armed; ladies carried pistols in their muffs; sentries 
patrolled the Houses of Parliament; and cannon loomed in 
a wide circle about Whitehall. Daily from the headquar- 
ters of the Country Party, the Green Ribbon Club at the 
King's Head Tavern in Temple Bar, came fresh "dis- 


2 20 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

coveries," and new rumors of fires and bloody outrages. 

The funeral of Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey on October 
31, 1678, was brilliantly stage-managed. Seventy-two 
clergymen marched before the bier on its way to St. Mar- 
tin's Church, and a long procession of citizens followed. 
The mob was so heated "that anything called Papist, were 
it cat or dog, had probably gone to pieces in a moment." 
The preacher who deUvered the funeral oration was 
guarded by two "thumping divines," who stood beside 
him in the pulpit and peered suspiciously about the 
church. The congregation trembled and wept as the orator 
raged against Rome. 

November 5, the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, 
gave the Country Party another opportunity. There was 
a great procession that night, with effigies of Godfrey and 
the Pope, men dressed as friars and priests, boys with 
squibs, flaring torches, and pots of incense, and a grand 
finale in Fleet Street when his holiness (with live cats 
squalling in his belly) was committed to the flames of a 
great fire. That night all good Protestants lighted bon- 
fires, and the zealous had images and fireworks. Nell 
Gwyn entertained the residents of Pall iViall with a pope- 
burning under the leafless elm trees at her front door. The 
effigy of the prelate "sat in a great chair, with a red nose 
half a yard long, with some hundreds of boys throwing 
squibs at it." Since little James waR in France, Nell had 
only one small boy of her own to throw fire-crackers. It 
was fun to watch the excitement, even though the Novem- 
ber air was sharp. 

It was during this period of crisis that the two opposed 
political parties acquired the names they were to bear for 

The Great Funic 1 1 1 

the next two centuries. The members of the Court Party, 
loyal monarchists, were called Tories by their enemies be- 
cause of their supposed link with the Catholic "Tories" of 
Ireland— "bog-trotters," or "wild Irish." In retahation 
those of the Country Party, republicans, were called 
Whigs because of their strength in Presbyterian Scotland, 
where "whig" was sour whey. The Whigs were also called 
"fanatics" and "mutineers," and they called themselves 
"True Blue Protestants" in the subhme conceit that a 
Tory Protestant was tinged with the scarlet of Rome. 

While they entertained the multitude with blood and 
circuses the Whigs pushed on their grand designs: to oust 
Danby, to exclude the Catholic Duke of York from the 
succession, and to replace him as heir-presumptive with 
the empty-headed but Protestant Duke of Monmouth. 
The first aim was easily achieved. In December, 1678, 
Ralph Montagu produced his hoarded letters from Danby 
with their evidence that the King and his Treasurer had 
offered to betray Holland to France for a mere £900,000. 
The furious Commons impeached Danby at once, and 
only a prorogation saved him. 

Bowing before the storm, the King dissolved Parliament 
early in 1679 and ordered a new election. To appease the 
Whigs he sent the Duke of \ork into temporary exile, 
dismissed Danby, and named Lord Sunderland, a crafty 
neutral, Principal Secretary of State. But the overwhelm- 
ingly Whig Parliament which met on March 6 howled for 
Danby's blood and the exclusion of the Duke of York. Al- 
though the King gave Danby a full pardon, he was im- 
peached again and sent to the Tower. To further appease 
the frantic Commons, the King appointed a new Privy 

22 2 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

Council, dominated by Whigs and with Shaftesbury as 
President. He was willing to do almost anything to save 
the succession, but the arrogant "mutineers," flushed with 
success, refused to compromise. On May 2 2 the Commons 
passed an Exclusion Bill. Fearful that it might pass also in 
the House of Lords, the King prorogued Parliament and 
later dissolved it again. He had no great love for his 
brother, but he knew that a change in the succession would 
lead to the downfall of monarchy. 

During that fearful winter and spring Nell Gwyn was 
the only one of the King's ladies (except, of course, the 
long-forgotten Moll Davis) who had nothing to fear. The 
others were Catholics and for a while they lived in mortal 
terror. Even Queen Catherine, accused of plotting to 
murder the King, hardly dared show her face outside 
Somerset House. Cleveland was indicted as a popish re- 
cusant; Mazarin was accused of complicity in the plot. 
The Duchess of Portsmouth, both Catholic and French, 
was the most hated person in the land. It was charged that 
she was "privy to the murder of Godfrey" and "out of 
zeal for her religion spat in Sir Edmund's face as he lay 
dead," that she and the King were preparing to flee to 
France, and that she was guilty of monstrous lechery not 
only with courtiers but even with her own blackamoor 
boy. The Whig libelers threw their foulest invectives at 
her, and the House of Commons seriously proposed 
chopping off her pretty head. But to Shaftesbury she was 
small game; he was hunting "tigers and bears and birds of 
prey," not "cony-catching." 

On the seesaw of public opinion Nell rose as Ports- 
mouth fell. Preserved in the amber of tradition is a pretty 

The Great Panic 223 

story. At this time a goldsmith was making an expensive 
service of plate for the King to give Portsmouth. The 
news spread abroad and people crowded his shop daily to 
see the plate and "to throw out curses against the duchess.'' 
Some, more violent, wished the silver melted and poured 
down the duchess's throat. All agreed in saying "it was a 
thousand pities His Majesty had not bestowed this bounty 
on Madam Ellen." 

It was only by virtue of religion and friendship that 
Nell was on the popular side; as usual she took no interest 
in the great issues of the day. The friends who had guided 
her career from her earliest days on the stage were nearly 
all professed Whigs or, like Lords Dorset and Rochester, 
they leaned toward republicanism. Henry Savile, younger 
brother of the Whig Lord Halifax, curried favor with 
both sides, and Lawrence Hyde, the one staunch Tory 
among Nell's friends, hated Portsmouth with Whiggish 
fervor. Nell was not betraying the King when she enter- 
tained Whigs at her house. He encouraged her to do so; 
for there he could meet his enemies, learn their minds, and 
deal with them man to man. The Whigs used her as a pipe- 
line to the King (not realizing that a conduit works both 
ways), and she, in her simplicity, saw them only as honest, 
patriotic gentlemen (very kind to poor Nelly) who were 
trying to save the King from the claws of Portsmouth and 
the grim wolf of Rome. 

As the symbol of pure, Protestant Womanhood, Nell 
was courted, fawned on, and flattered in prose and verse. 
In April, 1679, Aphra Behn, dramatist, feminist, and 
Whig, dedicated a new play. The Feigjjed Courtesans, to 
Nell. "When you speak," gushed Aphra, "men crowd to 

224 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

listen with that awful reverence as to holy oracles or divine 
prophecies, and bear away the precious words to tell at 
home to all the attentive family the graceful things you 
uttered, and cry 'But, Oh! she speaks with such an air, so 
gay, that half the beauty's lost in the repetition/ " At 
about the same time an anonymous poetess who called 
herself "Ephelia" concluded a panegyric "To Madam G." 
with these lines: 

So bright your beauty, so sublime your wit. 
None but a prince to wear your chains is fit. 
I could wish something, but all Heaven's store 
Cannot aiford one single blessing more; 
Honor nor wealth you want, nor any thing, 
Unless I wish you a perpetual spring 
Of youth and blossoming beauties, such as may 
Make all your envious rivals pine away. 

The fair Ephelia had no notion of NelFs troubles. 
Wealth, indeed! When the Commissioners who replaced 
Lord Danby took over the Treasury they found exactly 
£i, 2S. lod. in the vaults. There was no more money from 
France, and Parliament, of course, refused to vote funds. 
Henry Guy (now Treasurer of the Exchequer) doled out 
cash to favored pensioners as fast as it came into his hands, 
but NelFs allowance of £5,000 a year was paid in driblets 
of £250 to £500 and was often six months in arrears. She 
was having trouble getting money from Ireland, too. Part- 
ly because of "stops" on Irish pensions, partly because 
Nell's agent was a knave, she kept her friend Sir Robert 
Howard busy all year with letters and warrants to get 
things moving again. Even sister Rose (now remarried) 

The Great Panic 225 

suffered, and Nell had to appeal to the King to get her 
£200 stipend restored. 

Late in June, while Scotland flamed with rebellion and 
London rejoiced over the savage execution of five Jesuit 
priests, the King took his family to Windsor for the sum- 
mer. Nell settled down in her old lodgings and economized 
on her housekeeping. Although the King rode often to 
Hampton Court near London for meetings with his Coun- 
cil, he spent most of his time at his usual amusements. He 
had made every possible concession to the Whigs; now he 
could only wait for the storm to blow itself out. A cour- 
tier, describing a typical summer's day at Windsor, wrote, 
"Little was done all day but going a-fishing. At night the 
Duchess of Portsmouth came [from London]. In the 
morning I was with the King at Mrs. Nell's." 

On July 20 an accident relieved Nell of one of her 
financial burdens. According to local tradition old Madam 
Gwyn lived at Sandford Manor House, Chelsea. A rivulet, 
Sandy End, which divided Chelsea from Fulham, ran be- 
side her house. It was a hot July day; the old lady was 
sitting in her garden beside the brook, consuming more 
than her normal quota of brandy. She nodded, lost her 
balance, and tumbled into the water. Her garments pulled 
the poor wretch from her alcoholic daze to muddy death. 

Nell hurried to London at once and arranged for a 
splendid funeral. There would be no small escutcheon 
hung out for her mother. The author of "A Panegyric" 
assures us that the obsequies were magnificent: 

No cost, no velvet did the daughter spare; 
Fine gilded 'scutcheons did the hearse enrich 
To celebrate this martyr of the ditch; 

2 26 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

Burnt brandy did in flaming brimmers flow, 
Drunk at her funeral, while her well-pleased shade 
Rejoiced, even in the sober Fields below. 
At all the drunkenness her death had made. 

Old Madam Gwyn was solemnly interred in the south 
aisle of St. Martin's Church, and her dutiful daughter 
ordered a monument erected to her memory before she 
went back to Windsor. 

In a dozen lampoons and mock-elegies, written with the 
delicacy of a small boy chalking a fence, the Tory libelers 
taunted Nell with her mother's sordid death. The author 
of "Satire Unmuzzled" (1680), a catalogue of Court ladies 
suspected of lechery and Whiggery, dipped his pen in gall 
when he came to Nell: 

Now for a she-buifoon, who, as 'tis said, 

Crawled into the world without a maidenhead. 

It is most sure 'twas never had by man, 

Nor can she say where it was lost, or when; 

We must conclude she never had one then. 

Her mother grieved in muddy ale and sack 

To think her child would ever prove a crack; 

When she was drunk she always fell asleep. 

And when full maudlin then the whore would weep. 

Her tears were brandy, mundungus her breath. 

Bawd was her life, and common-shore her death. 

To see her daughter mourn for such a beast, 

'Tis like her life which maketh up one feast; 

Of all her jokes this mourning is the best. 

Nell had more important matter than libels to worry 
about. In August the King was stricken by a fever so near- 
ly fatal that the Duke of York was summoned home from 

The Great Panic 227 

Brussels. He arrived at Windsor on September 2 to find 
his brother recovered; cured, ironically, by doses of 
"Jesuits' powder"— quinine. A battle now flared between 
the two rivals for the succession, York refusing to leave 
England unless Monmouth too was exiled. Charles was a 
just man with a sense of humor. He sent Monmouth, the 
glorious victor of Maestrich, to Holland, and Catholic 
York to Presbyterian Scotland. 

When the matter was settled, King and Court w^ent to 
Newmarket. Blessed with fair September weather the 
courtiers ignored the storms raging elsewhere and gave 
themselves up to revelry. The King was in good health 
and better humor. Every day there was "the divertisse- 
ment of the comedy, and at night nothing but dancing and 
merriment." Nell was one of the gayest of the jovial crew, 
wagering "very highly at races and cockpits," and enter- 
taining everybody with her tricks. She was still slender 
and very delectable in boy's clothes. One morning she 
dressed up in periwig and breeches "with a horseman's 
coat" and swaggered out to the paddocks where the King 
stood chatting with his cronies. For a moment they failed 
to recognize her; then she saluted them with the exagge- 
rated graces of the stage. Ods fish! 'Tw^as Nell! "His 
Majesty and Court were very pleased." Nell was a better 
actress than horsewoman; a few days later she "received 
much damage from the fall of a horse." 

In October the Court returned to London. Suddenly 
taking the offensive, Charles prorogued the new Parlia- 
ment to January, dismissed Shaftesbury as President of the 
Council, and dared him to do his ^^ orst. The Whie^s retali- 
ated with the "discovery" of the Meal-tub Plot, a supposed 

2 28 Nell Gnjoyn: Royal Mistress 

Catholic conspiracy to discredit Oates and his fellow liars, 
which added new fuel to the fires of fanaticism. Outwardly 
undisturbed, the King took time on November 8 to attend 
the remarriage of the Duchess of Cleveland's son, the Duke 
of Grafton, to Lord Arlington's daughter— now twxlve 
years old and ripe for consummation. A few days later 
Charles took Nell's older boy to Portsmouth to witness the 
launching of a new warship, named the Burford in the 
child's honor. However worried he might be, the King 
went about his affairs with his usual calm. 

The Whigs used every device they could think of to 
frighten or cajole him into accepting Monmouth as his 
legitimate son and heir. On November 17, the anniversary 
of Queen Elizabeth's coronation, they paraded a hundred 
thousand howling people through the streets of London 
behind effigies of Godfrey, the Pope, and the Devil. With a 
set face Charles watched the spectacle from a goldsmith's 
window. Two weeks later, counting on his well-known 
love for his oldest son, the Whigs brought Aionmouth back 
to London, to the accompaniment of bells, bonfires, and a 
snowstorm of pamphlets. 

The King was furious at this open flouting of his com- 
mands. When he refused to see his son, deprived him of 
all his offices, and ordered him to leave England again, Mon- 
mouth turned to Nell Gwyn for help. She responded 
nobly; Monmouth was her friend and in trouble. He found 
a refuge in her house, hid in her closet when the King came 
to see her, and continued to hope for an audience with His 
Majesty. Nell pleaded with the King again and again, beg- 
ging him only to see Monmouth, who, she said, had grown 
"pale, wan, lean, and long-visaged merely because he was 

The Great Panic 229 

in disfavor." The angry monarch "bid her be quiet, for he 
would not see him." Such goings-on amazed the French 
Ambassador, who could never understand the quaint ways 
of the EngHsh; he wrote to King Louis of his astonishment 
that Monmouth "every night sups with Nelly, the cour- 
tesan who has borne the King two children, and whom he 
daily visits." 

It was all a waste of time. The King would not be moved, 
and Portsmouth, to whom Monmouth appealed in despera- 
tion, repHed coldly that she would do nothing for him "so 
long as he was an enemy to the King and to her." After two 
weeks of skulking about the Court and hiding in closets, 
Monmouth retired to the country. One effect of the futile 
episode was to make Nell even more popular with the 
London mobs. Her championing of Monmouth, "the Prot- 
estant Duke," gave her a blunt but distinctive title, "the 
Protestant Whore." 

The Whigs, who fed the city on miracles, swelling tid- 
bits of news into banquets of rumor, were quick to make 
use of a small episode involving Nell early in December. 
In Hyde Park one day her lead coach-horse came too close 
to Henry Wharton, a hot-headed lieutenant of the Cold- 
stream Guards. Wharton drew his sword and aveng^ed his 
dignity by running the horse through with one heroic 
lunge. (Nell complained to the King, who banished Whar- 
ton from Court.) It was easy to build this episode into a 
mighty piece of tittle-tattle; it took but a Httle slurring 
of sounds to turn "Mrs. Nelly, her horse," into "xMrs. 
Nelly, the whore." Within a few days there were wide- 
spread rumors that Madam Gwyn was missing, murdered 
by sword or poison, another victim of the wicked Papists. 

230 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

On December 17 the editor of Mercurius Domesticus is- 
sued an official denial: "Several false and ridiculous reports 
being spread abroad concerning Madam Ellen Gwyn, as to 
her death or absence from her house, we are assured that 
there is no ground for such a report, the said Madam 
Gw^n being now at her own house in health, and has not 
been absent from it." 

All through the winter and spring of 1680, while Par- 
liament was prorogued again to October, and Whig and 
Tory jockeyed for position, Nell continued to champion 
Monmouth's cause. The Tory poets retaliated by calling 
her such interesting names as "she-buffoon," "puddle 
Nell," a "withered whore," a "hair-brained whore," and 
"the darling strumpet of the crowd." (The Duchess of 
Portsmouth fared no better at the hands of the Whigs, 
whose mildest term for her was "the damned, dirty 
duchess.") One day late in February Nell was sitting in a 
side-box at the Duke's Theatre when a drunken partisan 
"came into the pit and called her whore" to her face. Nell 
was not unused to the epithet, but her escort, Thomas Her- 
bert, the Earl of Pembroke's younger brother, objected in 
the usual fashion. "There were many swords drawn and a 
great hubbub in the house." 

In March the Duke of York ventured down from Scot- 
land for a visit, and Monmouth, who had been drumming 
up Whiggery in the west, hurried Londonward also. This 
time the King strictly forbade Nell to receive Monmouth 
at her house; he barred also some of the more obnoxious 
Whigs, notably Lord William Cavendish and Mr. Thomas 
Thynne. Nell obeyed the letter of the King's commands, 
but the Countess of Orrery offered her house as a meeting 

The Great Funic 231 

place, and often Nell supped there with Monmouth, Caven- 
dish, Shaftesbury, and Buckingham. The conferences ac- 
complished nothing. Helpless with Parliament prorogued, 
many of the Whig leaders resigned from the Council in 
disgust and sulked in their taverns. For six months there 
was an ominous calm, the dead spot in the center of the 

Perhaps, if the Whigs could not build, they could de- 
stroy. There was the Duchess of Portsmouth, their constant 
enemy, arrogant, rich, living in splendor, and secure so 
long as she held the King's love. Hopefully Buckingham 
tried once again to supplant her with a new mistress. His 
plot was doomed from the start, not because Portsmouth 
was powerful but because Charles was weak. He was fifty 
years old, debilitated by attacks of fever, and sterile as the 
result of gonorrhea; after Moll Davis's daughter, now 
nearly seven years old, he had fathered no more children. 

Nevertheless Buckingham would try his luck. He formed 
a new cabal: his sister Mary, Dowager Duchess of Rich- 
mond (who had long hated Portsmouth) ; her sister-in-law, 
Lady Mary Howard; Nell, who still hoped to be a countess 
and was willing to be at either end of a new intrigue; and 
finally Lawrence ("Lory") Hyde, now First Commissioner 
of the Treasury (a Tory, but another of Portsmouth's en- 
emies). Their destined victim was Jane Lawson, niece of 
the Duchess of Richmond's third husband, "Northern 
Tom" Howard. The Duchess of Richmond (who con- 
descended to "converse with Nell" in a noble cause) man- 
aged pretty Jane. 

A Court satire, entitled "The Angler" in allusion to the 
King's fondness for fishing, warned Jane of her danger: 

232 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

O yet consider e're it be too late 
How near you stand upon the brink of fate. 
Think who they are who would for you procure 
This great preferment to be made a whore: 
Two reverend aunts, renowned in British story 
For lust and drunkenness with Nell and Lory. 
These, these are they your fame will sacrifice. 
Your honor sell, and you shall hear the price: 
My Lady Mary nothing can design. 
But to feed her lust with what she gets for thine; 
Old Richmond making thee a glorious punk. 
Shall twice a day with brandy now be drunk; 
Her brother Buckingham shall be restored; 
Nelly a countess. Lory be a lord. 

Mistress Lawson paid no heed to warnings. She was not 
alone in her desire to become "a glorious punk." Among 
other contenders for the title were Carey Frazier, daughter 
of Sir Alexander Frazier, the King's physician, and Eliz- 
abeth Jones, daughter of the Earl of Ranelagh and backed 
by the Irish interest. That spring and summer the traffic 
of bawds, managers, and maidens congested the backstairs. 
But King Charles, living in domestic bliss with his trio of 
trollops (Portsmouth, Mazarin, and Nell), was not to be 
tempted. One by one the candidates resigned; Mesdames 
Frazier and Jones took husbands, and Jane Lawson, finding 
her secular efforts of no avail, turned to a nunnery. 

Early in June, while Nell was at her busiest with plots 
and cabals, trotting from Windsor to London to attend 
meetings of the Monmouth coterie, besieging the Irish 
authorities about her pension, and hiring a new agent and 
majordomo, James Frazier, shocking news came from 

The Great Funic it,^ 

France. Little Lord James was dead. Just two years ago 
Nell had written of his preparations for his journey to 
France, for him the land of no return. He died "of a sore 
leg" and part of Nell died with him. No more details about 
his death and funeral are recorded. In the growing anxiety 
of the times, with Whitehall flooded by Whig-inspired 
petitions for a meeting of Parliament, and with new rumors 
of uprisings, rebellions, and foreign wars to report, the 
gossips paid little heed to the death of an eight-year-old 
child or the grief of his mother. For a while Nell tried to 
continue as a politician, but her heart was no longer in her 
work. She retired to Windsor for the rest of the summer 
and sought diversion and peace. To add to her melancholy, 
on July 26 her old friend and counsellor. Lord Rochester, 
surrounded by weeping women and praying parsons, died. 
He was thirty-three, just three years older than Nell. 

Sobered, but by no means crushed, Nell was partially 
consoled by the King's gift of a fine mansion at Windsor. 
Not far from Windsor Castle, Burford House was a large, 
well-appointed dwelhng, with pleasant gardens sloping to 
the south. Deeds of September 14 conveyed it to Nell's 
trustees. Lord Dorset, Sir George Hewitt, Sir Edward Vil- 
liers, and WiUiam Chiffinch, "in trust for Ellen Gwyn for 
and during her life, and after her decease in trust for 
Charles, Earl of Burford, and the heirs male of his bod v." 
Even after Nell took possession, the Treasury continued 
to pay for major repairs and for such improvements as "a 
brick w^all for Madam Gwyn's garden on the south side 
of her house at Windsor." It was a noble s^ift indeed; now 
Nell had two fine houses— but only one son. 

In the autumn, after a long lull, the winds of politics 

2 34 ^^^^ Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

began to rise again. Shaftesbury had secured London for 
Whiggery by contriving the election of a fanatic Lord 
Mayor and two republican sheriiTs. The election of one 
sheriif, Slingsby Bethel (Dryden's "Shimei" who "did 
wisely from expensive sins refrain") was helped by a rumor 
that he was married to Nell Gwyn! Since the sheriffs chose 
all juries, the Whig victories assured the conviction of 
anyone accused of complicity in the Popish Plot. Now, as 
the time for Parliament to meet drew near, the Whigs gave 
a royal welcome to Monmouth on his return from another 
progress in the west, circulated stories of a black box which 
contained proof that his mother, Lucy Walter, had been 
the King's wife, whipped the London mobs to fury against 
York and popery, and set out once more to "popularly 
prosecute the plot." For a while even the Duchess of Ports- 
mouth flirted with the Whigs, lured by the foolish hope 
that her son, the Duke of Richmond, might be named heir 
to the throne if York was legally disabled. 

Parliament met on October 2 1 . The House of Commons 
passed a new Exclusion Bill on November 1 1 , and shouting 
mobs carried it to the House of Lords. There it was debated 
for six hours at white heat. Deserting his party, the Earl of 
Halifax upheld the cause of constitutionalism in a series of 
brilliant speeches and defeated the bill almost single-handed. 
The ranting Whigs demanded Halifax's dismissal from the 
Council, declared York incapable of holding public office, 
pushed the Popish Plot trials, and talked ominously of a 

It was the most critical period of King Charles's reign. 
A comet shaped like a sword-blade struck terror to the 
hearts of the ignorant and reminded the wise of a similar 

The Great Panic 235 

omen before the bloody revolution of '41 . They had reason 
to be concerned. In the depths of the city Lord Shaftesbury 
was planning civil war. The London mobs v^ere constantly 
tossed about by rumors. They shrieked with joy whenever 
a new victim of the plot was executed at Tyburn or on 
Tower Hill— hanged, disemboweled, and quartered. But the 
King refused every demand from the rampant Whigs. To 
give way to the clamor for exclusion would be to loose a 
flood of new demands which would sweep monarchy into 
limbo. To resist was to take the chance of revolution. With 
a lean and hungry Court, an empty Treasury, and war 
threatening on the continent, he chose to resist. On January 
10, 1 68 1, he first prorogued and then dissolved Parliament. 


Counter -winds 





HE WHIGS were so strongly intrenched in London 
that King Charles summoned his next Parliament to meet 
on March 21, 1681, at Tory Oxford. In February, after 
bitter protests at this unusual proceeding, the Whigs 
mounted a new campaign of lies, libels, and obscene songs. 
As usual Nell and the Duchess of Portsmouth figured in 
the lampoons as good versus evil, and some of the attacks 
against the Catholic mistress were so vicious that she was 
literally frightened into illness and talked of fleeing to 
France. One ingenious Whig contributed an imaginary 
canine conversation between Nell's "Tutty" and Ports- 
mouth's "Snap-short." The burden of their lap-dog snarling 
was that Nell was "a good commonwealth's woman," a 
Protestant who had never "to make her own private gains 
endeavored the ruin of a nation," while Portsmouth, a spy 
for France and Rome, was one of "Pharaoh's lean kine" 
who had "almost devoured a kingdom." Snap-short held 
doggedly to one point: his mistress (Portsmouth) was "a 
whore of the greater magnitude." 

On March 14, outwardly carefree and debonair. King 
and Court drove to Oxford through ways lined bv Life- 
Guards. Revolution was in the air, but the King behaved 
as if on holiday. A day or two after his arrival he went, 
with Nell on one arm and Portsmouth on the other, to see 
a play, Tambtirlaine the Great. Cheerfully he greeted the 


240 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

Whigs who thronged into Oxford armed to their gnashing 
teeth. Ahhough he scoffed at rumors that the fanatics 
planned to seize him and hold him a prisoner until he agreed 
to their demands, there were always guardsmen at his heels. 

Mobs of both parties roamed the streets, and battles were 
common between blue-ribbon Whigs and red-ribbon 
Tories. One day a Whig mob mistook Nell's coach for 
Portsmouth's and surrounded it, howling threats and 
curses. Nell stuck her head out the window and called 
sweetly, "Pray, good people, be civil, I am the Protestant 
whore." Immediately the mob showered blessings on her 
sanctified ringlets and allowed her to pass. 

King Charles made it clear to Shaftesbury that, although 
he was willing to accept a Protestant regency for his brother 
(if and when York inherited) he would not yield an inch 
on the actual line of succession. Inflamed by passion, preju- 
dice, and power, the Whigs were not interested in law 
and justice; they bawled for Monmouth and decked them- 
selves with ribbons stamped "No Popery, No Slavery." 
When they introduced a new Exclusion Bill in the House 
of Commons, the King (who had just concluded a secret 
treaty for a French subsidy) decided on dissolution again. 

Since the first hint of his plan might be the signal for an 
uprising it was kept secret from everyone but his Council. 
On the morning of March 28 he strolled to the House of 
Lords followed by a sedan-chair conveying his ceremonial 
garb. Suddenly appearing in the Lords, wearing robes and 
crown, he summoned the Commons, who came pouring 
in, exultantly convinced that he was about to yield. They 
were struck dumb by the Lord Chancellor's terse, "It is 
His Majesty's royal pleasure and will that this Parliament 

Counter-winds 2 4 1 

be dissolved; and this Parliament is dissolved." Before the 
stunned Whigs could gather their wits, King and Court 
were well on the road to Windsor. 

This was the last Parliament elected during the reign. 
In the next few months England, already sickened by 
bloody excesses, recovered from panic and plots, and the 
winds blew counter— toward monarchy and passive obedi- 
ence. Aided by £400,000 from Louis XIV, spread over 
three years. King Charles paid his debts and fattened his 
Court. In return for this modest subsidy, Charles promised 
not to interfere with any of King Louis' imperialist 
schemes, so long as the French refrained from further at- 
tacks on Holland. He also agreed that if a new Parliament 
insisted on exclusion, he would dissolve it again. King Louis 
feared that, if the situation became too dangerous, Charles 
might agree to exclusion but substitute William of Orange 
for Monmouth as his heir, thus uniting England and Hol- 
land in a permanent league against France. 

Now, in a storm of petitions expressing abhorrence of 
Whiggery, King Charles took a bitter revenge against his 
enemies. Whig informers lost their pensions, were fined 
for scandalum magnatum^ and trembled for their lives. 
When the Grand Juries of London consistently refused 
(with an "Ignoramus") bills charging such scoundrels as 
College, Rous, and Fitzharris with high treason, the King's 
lawyers secured a change of venue and Tory juries con- 
victed the poor wTetches on the evidence of Tory inform- 
ers. It was a lie for a lie and a head for a head. Quoth the 
King grimly, "At Doomsday we shall see \\'hose arse is 

With the Whig defeat Nell had no further interest in 

242 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

politics, and there were no more cabals and cor^erences at 
her house in Pall Mall. Her friends, Monmouth, Bucking- 
ham, and the lesser Whig lords went into hiding for a 
while, fearing the King's vengeance. Shaftesbury was ac- 
cused of high treason, freed on bail by an "Ignoramus" 
jury on November 24, and thereafter so hampered by the 
King that the following year he fled to Holland, where he 
died on January 21, 1683. 

There were still Whig plots and tumults in the City, but 
outside London walls the days were calm. Once again 
Whitehall and Windsor came back to something like nor- 
mal; there were cards, plays, dances, music, and races in 
season— but pale ghosts of the mad, lusty days of the past. 
As before, courtiers and mistresses strove for royal favor 
and preferment. In April, 1681, much to Nell's disgust, 
Portsmouth's son, the Duke of Richmond, w^as installed 
as a Knight of the Garter. But Nell was not without profit 
in her own country; sometime during the year King Charles 
gave her valuable leases of land in Bestwood Park, a crown 
property near the village of Arnold in Nottinghamshire. 

The members of the King's little family continued in 
their ways, each according to character. Moll Davis re- 
mained in retirement. The Duchess of Cleveland, still living 
in France where she spent her fortune on a scries of lovers 
but gave no new cause for scandal, made rare trips to Eng- 
land to bully the King for money. The Duchess of Mazarin^ 
only an annex to the harem, amused herself with gamesters, 
sots, and sages. As always Portsmouth was the political 
power. The King's ministers— even Hyde and Halifax, who 
hated her— found it advisable to be at least civil, and Sun- 
derland courted her shamelessly. 

Count er-ivinds 243 

Nell carried on as court jester and entertainer. Particu- 
larly at Windsor, where the King loved to spend the long 
months of summer, it was her function to furnish amuse- 
ment for His Majesty by bringing together at Burford 
House the liveliest members of the Court. Some of these 
were old friends— the Earl of Dorset, Fleetwood Shepherd, 
Henry Savile (now Vice-Chamberlain of the Household), 
foppish Sir George Hewitt, mad Harry Killigrew, George 
Etherege the poet (now knighted, married, and in the Duke 
of York's service), Peg Hughes, Mall Knight, and wanton 
Lady Arundel (nee Lady Mary Mordaunt). Sir Carr 
Scroope, alas, died in November, 1680. Among new 
friends were Charles Grenville, Lord Lansdowne, a gay 
young spark much in love with Mall Knight; the aptly 
named William Dutton Colt, Prince Rupert's Master of the 
Horse; Lieutenant Stint Duncombe of the King's Foot- 
Guards, very attentive to Nelly; Henry Lumley, famous 
for nonsense; Charles Talbot, the young Earl of Shrews- 
bury (son of Nell's old friend, the countess) ; and dozens 

There were professional entertainers, too, people like her 
former colleague, the actor Jo Haines, who claimed in a 
verse epistle addressed to the King that Charles was his 

Imprimis, in Scotland, for converting of AVhigs, 
In England for Pindaric poems and jigs, 
At Dame Ellen Gwyn's for moving vour laughter, 
A presage that some good was to follow after. 

At London, Windsor, or Newmarket, Nell kept open 
house for her friends, and the King could always drop in, 
assured of jests and jollity. By day he went to Portsmouth's 

244 ^^^^ Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

lodgings for business (and often to take a nap), but he 
devoted many of his nights to Nell, mirth, and sometimes 

Usually his visits were only for innocent merriment, but 
the pious and prudish would never think so. In September, 
1 68 1, while the Court was at Newmarket, a delegation of 
Oxford aldermen were walking with the King in the fields 
when Nell passed them with a cheery, "Charles, I hope I 
shall have your company at night, shall I not?" The chaste 
aldermen misconstrued the harmless invitation and were 
shocked; one of them told the story with horror for months 
afterward, saying that he had "often heard bad things of the 
King," but now his own eyes had seen them. 

The law students of London were no such prudes. The 
Christmas festivities at the Inner Temple were celebrated 
with wassail and revelry by thirty- two "gentlemen under 
the bar" from December 17, 1681, to January 19, 1682! 
On January 1 2 they invited Nell to one of their rowdiest 
entertainments, and in token of their admiration presented 
her with a gift of candy. In the record of their revels stands 
the solemn notation: "for sweetmeats for Madam Gwyn, 


But many respectable men— even good Tories— were as 
shocked as the Oxford aldermen by the King's frivolous 
Court and his multiplicity of queans. On January 24, 1682, 
sour John Evelyn witnessed the Duchess of Portsmouth's 
entertainment of the Moroccan Ambassador and his reti- 
nue. The guests sat at a long table, "a lady between two 
Moors," and among the ladies (Evelyn was pained to note) 
were "the Duchess of Portsmouth, Nelly, &c., concubines 
and cattle of that sort, as splendid as jewels and excess of 

Counter-winds 245 

bravery could make them." The "concubines and cattle" 
were put to shame by the Moors— grave, courtly men, who 
drank no wine. 

Significantly it was Portsmouth and not Queen Cather- 
ine who entertained ambassadors. In all respects but one 
Portsmouth was queen and her reign was absolute. In the 
spring of 1682 she was so well established that she could 
risk a brief vacation abroad. On March 2 she set forth for 
her native land, "with seventy in family and £30,000 ad- 
vance money." The Court of Louis XIV greeted her with 
the honors reserved for royalty. 

The moment her back was turned, the Whig poets 
began their yapping. In March, 168 1, a visitor to the Eng- 
lish Court, Philippe de Vendome, Grand Prior of France 
(a handsome sinner in shepherd's clothing), had fallen in 
love with the duchess. The gossips suspected an intrigue, 
and Portsmouth's trip abroad was gleefully explained as 
caused by the King's jealousy. In "A Dialogue between the 
Duchess of Portsmouth and Madam Gwyn at Parting," 
Nell, the constant nymph, was made to reprove her rival: 

. . . You, to your eternal praise and fame, 
To foreign scents betrayed the Royal Game. 
Witness the Prior [who] on your bosom lay, 
And in that posture did your lust betray. 
For which now with a pox you're sent away. 

Portsmouth's excursion inspired also a pair of prose 
satires on a now-hackneyed theme: the conflict bet\veen 
the two mistresses. In "A Letter from the Duchess of 
Portsmouth to Madam Gwyn on her Landing in France" 
the fictional duchess boasted that in the Channel Neptune 

246 Nell Gnjoyn: Royal Mistress 

himself had made love to her, and for a moment she was 
tempted, thinking to see her son Richmond "Master of the 
Sea-horse as well as at land." But it occurred to her that 
Nell would be a more appropriate mistress for Neptune 
because of her "extraction"— mud. To this insult she added 
some horrid remarks about Nell's family and old Madam 
Gwyn's well-remembered death. 

In "Madam Gwyn's Answer" Nell, as usual, got the 
better of the argument. She wondered that Portsmouth 
escaped drowning, but "he that's born to be hanged will 
never be drowned." As for the pretensions of young Rich- 
mond, "I have a httle lord . . . that may for ought I know 
prick your bladder and let out that ambitious wind. Both 
sprung from one branch, and why should not he hope for 
something, as well as yours gape for all. There's little dif- 
ference by the mothers' side if we search the Keroualle 
family in France and mine in England." True, Nell's 
mother had died in a ditch, "but what then? She was a soul, 
she loved brandy, and as for your papa, his lodging in 
Wiltshire [at the brutish Earl of Pembroke's house] was 
but in a pig-sty. If I came from a drunken family, you 
sprung from a swinish race, and pray what's the difference 
when our pedigree is summed up?" 

While libelers dripped acid and Portsmouth went a-prog- 
ress through France, King Charles and his Court were at 
Newmarket, kept from their wonted sports by cold and 
rainy weather. Samuel Pepys, who had nearly lost his head 
during the Popish Terror, went to Newmarket early in 
March to greet the Duke of York, now at last permitted to 
return to England. Pepys was very welcome at Burford 
House where he often met the King. For lack of Ports- 

Counter-winds i^j 

mouth and her lodgings, Charles "took his repose" at Nell's 
house "once or twice daily." Pepys was very fond of Nell. 
Purely for sentimental reasons he preserved a three-quarter 
length engraving of her person as Cupid. She was dressed 
very simply— in an arrow and a pair of wings. 

Portsmouth came back to England in July, plump and 
lusty ("Fubbs" the King called her fondly), and a naughty 
poet jeered, 

Now Nelly you must be content, 

Her grace begins to reign; 
For all your brat you may be sent 

To Dorset back again. 

With her prestige heightened by her overseas reception the 
duchess was more insufferable than ever. When Phyllis 
Temple, one of the Queen's Maids of Honor, "spoke re- 
flectingly" of her to a confidant who tattled, Portsmouth 
"went crying to the King, who complained of it to the 
Queen and said he would stop Temple's salary for it." 
Queen Catherine fretted under Portsmouth's arrogance, 
but if she dared protest she was considered "saucy." 

While Nell, the jester, followed the King about in his 
restless round— Newmarket in spring and fall, Windsor in 
the summer— Portsmouth, the politician, tended more and 
more to stay at home, cabaling with the Duke of York and 
governing the kingdom. Nell lived in a happy world ^^'here 
horses, gamecocks, and hawks were more important than 
treaties and taxes, cards and flirtations ^^'ere serious amuse- 
ments, and the only news was gossip. Even the poets began 
to lose interest in her, and one of them confessed coarsciv 

248 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

All matters of state from her soul she does hate 

And leaves to the politic bitches. 
The whore's in the right, for 'tis her deUght 

To be scratching just where it itches. 

In the summer of 1682 Windsor was delightful. In hot, 
brawling London, where the Earl of Danby (still a pris- 
oner in the Tower) was suing for his freedom, and Lord 
Shaftesbury was vainly regrouping his forces for a fresh 
assault, Portsmouth plotted mighty schemes of state. There 
were elections for Lord Mayor and sheriif , suits and coun- 
tersuits at law, trials of Whig informers, and executions 
for high treason. At Windsor all was gaiety: hawking and 
fishing, long rides in the cool forest-land, suppers and cards 
—ombre or basset— in the soft glow of candles. Mall Knight 
grew tired of flirting with Lord Lansdowne, "the gay, the 
sprightly, and the wise," turned her batteries on Wilham 
Dutton Colt (an attractive, but remarkably crosseyed, 
gentleman), and compelled his submission. Bored by "love- 
ly" Buncombe's attentions, Nell Gwyn broke up Mali's 
new romance and trotted off with Master Colt. There was a 
mighty quarrel between the two ladies; the King was called 
in as peacemaker; he awarded Colt "and all his eyes" to Nell 
and sent Mall off on a little mission to France. To the pleas- 
ure of the whole Court, Sir George Etherege immortalized 
the social saga in a wicked heroic poem, "Mrs. Nelly's 
Complaint," in which he pictured Nell as haunted by the 
ghost of absent Mall Knight and crying out in her terror. 

To France my baffled, squeaking rival's gone, 
And Colt and all his eyes are now my own. 
Should she pretend to what's so much my due, 
She might as well take lovely Duncombe too, 

Counter-njDtnds 249 

Duncombe by my great sway and power preferred, 
For mounting me well first, now mounts the Guard. 
Help, Church and State, to do a princess right, 
Guard me from wrongs and exorcise this spright. 
Even now in terror on my bed I lie; 
Send Doctor Burnet to me, or I die. 

Windsor was delighted. 

At the end of August the King and a number of his 
courtiers— among them Nell Gwyn— rode to the little cathe- 
dral town of Winchester "to see the horse-racing there." 
A Court official sent ahead to locate lodgings for the visi- 
tors had no trouble persuading Dean Richard Meggott to 
give up a bedroom in the deanery for the King, but when 
he chose Prebendary Thomas Ken's house "for the use of 
Mrs. Gwyn" he met a stem refusal. The courtier hinted 
that the King would pay; but "not for his kingdom" would 
the doughty priest permit "a woman of ill repute" to enter 
his chaste abode. Fortunately Dean Meggott was willing 
to compromise with sin and offered Nell a room in his own 
house, close to the King's bedchamber. 

Easy-going Nell was not offended, and King Charles was 
dehghted by Ken's stout integrity. Two years later when 
the bishopric of Bath and Wells was to be filled, Charles 
looked over the appHcations (among them those of Ken 
and the pliant Dean Meggott) and cried, "Ods fish! Who 
should have Bath and Wells but the little fellow who w^ould 
not give poor Nelly a lodging?" And so it was decreed— 
although, with nice irony, tradition gave Nell the credit. 
Sixty years afterward, the poet Edw^ard Young begged the 
Duchess of Portland to help him to a bishopric, saving, 
" 'Tis certain Nell Gwyn made Dr. Ken a bishop." 

2 5Q Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

Poor Nelly! In matters of preferment her influence was 
nothing; ambitious and hopeful as ever, she could not even 
get honors for her son and herself. For young Charles, a 
handsome twelve-year-old, dark like his father— she wanted 
the highest honors in the King's gift: a dukedom and the 
Order of the Garter. For herself, as always, she wanted 
the coronet of a countess. Twice during 1682 the honor of 
the Garter was almost in her grasp, in August when the 
Duke of Lauderdale's death vacated a place in the Order, 
and Lord Burf ord was mentioned as his successor, and again 
in November when the dying Prince Rupert "sent his 
Garter to the King, desiring Lord Burford might have it." 
In each case another candidate was chosen. As for the duke- 
dom—Cleveland's youngest son. Lord Northumberland, 
was still only an earl; it was not until April, 1683, that the 
King was able to provide him with the title (and, more 
important, the estates) of a duke. Nell's son always came 

In the autumn of 1682 money was more important than 
honors. Infected by the Court craze for gambling, Nell 
played for high stakes, in a single night losing £1,400 to 
the Duchess of Mazarin. There were times when she won, 
of course; nevertheless her losses over a few months made 
quite a dent in her purse. But she was in no danger of bank- 
ruptcy; on December 7 she paid Prince Rupert's executors 
£4,520 for a "great pearl necklace." She even had some- 
thing to spare for charity. In November thousands of 
people were made homeless by a great fire at Wapping. On 
December 1 1 the King gave £2,000, "a person of quality 
£500, and Madam Gwyn £100" for the relief of the suf- 
ferers. Nell was still getting her pension from the Treasury 


2s I 

in small (but more frequent) payments, and regular rev- 
enues from Bestwood Park and the tax on logwood; but 
her Irish income (on which, earHer in the year, she had 
borrowed £400) had stopped again, and she was forced 
to appeal to the Commissioners of the Treasury for an 
order commanding payment. The years had brought no 
financial wisdom to Nell; as with all ladies of fashion, it 
was "her maxim that to run o' th' score" with tradesmen 
was "a Court privilege." 

NelFs charity was as impulsive as everything else in her 
life; she lived by heart, not by intellect. A famous story 
about her generosity rests on no reliable authority, but 
could be true. "Once, as she was driving up Ludgate Hill, 
she saw a poor clergyman in the hands of the sheriff's offi- 
cers, and struck with compassion, she lighted from her car- 
riage, inquired into the circumstances of his arrest, and paid 
his debt on the spot; and finding, on application to the 
vouchers he named, that his character was as unexception- 
able as his misfortunes were real, she generously befriended 
him and his family." 

In November King Charles, a good father to his numer- 
ous brood, proposed sending the Earl of Burford (of whom 
he was "extremely fond") to France for more advanced 
education. Young Charles had been well supplied with 
tutors, but he had never been away at school. Viscount 
Preston, who had replaced Henry Savile as Envoy to 
France, was ordered to prepare for Burford's reception; he 
was to take a larger house so that the boy would have an 
apartment to himself, and he was to provide teachers of 
mathematics and fortification— "the best that can be got." 
There was a constant bustle and stir in Pall Mall throus^h 

252 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

December and January, but Nell (who remembered only 
too well the tragic fate of little James) could not bear to 
part with her remaining son. She temporized, asked that 
"he should be delayed a little time in hopes of a setttlement 
to be made upon him," and finally kept him at home. As a 
compromise, Mr. Peter de Laune, formerly tutor to the 
Duke of York's children, was engaged to teach him French. 

The new year came in attended by the usual festivities 
and promises of better times. With Shaftesbury in Holland 
and the Tory reaction complete, the government seemed 
safe enough, but the Ejng's ministers were aware of the 
dangers from Whig fanatics and were constantly on guard. 
Charles refused to take precautions, riding in his sedan- 
chair across the Park on his regular visits to Nell in spite 
of reported strangers lurking in the shrubbery. Once, when 
the Duke of York protested at his careless freedom, Charles 
replied, "Ods fish! James, no man in England will take 
away my life to make you king." 

In March he went as usual to Newmarket where three 
weeks later his stay was cut short by a fire which destroyed 
half the town, upset his plans, and caused his return to 
London two days ahead of schedule. Some forty fanatic 
plotters were upset too. They had planned an ambuscade 
at the Rye House near Ware— a hay-cart drawn across the 
Newmarket Road to block the royal coach, and a dozen 
muskets blazing from ditches and fields. It was not until 
June that the Rye House plot was exposed and the King 
learned by what a narrow margin of timing he had missed 
going to Heaven without benefit of clergy. 

The wheel had come full circle; now there was a Prot- 
estant Plot. Once again there was hysteria, panic, and the 

Counter-winds 253 

shabby round of informers, "discoveries," and confessions. 
Twenty-one men were indicted by a Tory Grand Jury 
for complicity in the plot, including the King's still favor- 
ite son, the Duke of Monmouth. Twelve fled and were 
never captured. One, Lord Essex, cut his throat in the 
Tower. Seven were condemned by Tory juries, savagely 
executed, and their reeking quarters stuck on spikes over 
London gates. Frantically denying that he had ever plotted 
his father's death, Monmouth went into hiding again. 

The Tory revenge was complete, but no one was any 
the happier. The King's stern, deeply lined face reflected 
his bitter mood. In August he retreated from London to 
Windsor, but there was no peace for a father brooding over 
the treason of a beloved son. The Court, too, in a "great 
consternation on the late plot and conspiracy," was deeply 
shocked; Monmouth, gay, spirited, and handsome, had 
been a universal favorite. Of all the King's family, it w^as 
Nell who most nearly shared his sorrow. Monmouth— half- 
brother to her own son— had been her intimate friend for 
years, and although he was her senior by some nine months, 
she loved him with almost maternal aflFection. Only four 
years ago she had sheltered him in her home and pleaded 
his cause with the King. It was a gloomy summer for Nell, 
too. To add to her melancholy the last of August brought 
news of the death of Charles Hart, the actor, her "Charles 
the First." 

But gloom could not long survive at the Court of not-so- 
merry King Charles. As the bitter autumn gave wix to the 
coldest winter in man's memory, the winds of conflict 
died down, and the year went out in an anticlimax of small 
events. Monmouth came out of hiding, made his submis- 

254 ^^^^ Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

sion, confessed his part in the conspiracy, was pardoned, 
and then retracted his confession. In a passion, Charles con- 
signed him to hell. He fled to Holland instead. The Duke 
of Buckingham, repenting his Whiggery, made overtures 
to the Court. Madam Mazarin, deeply affected by the loss 
of a lover (slain by her nephew in a duel) , considered re- 
tiring to a nunnery and was dissuaded by friends who 
pointed out that nunneries were dull. Nell Gwyn received 
dishonorable mention as "a Church of England's Whore" 
in a new libel, "The Ladies March." Her good friend Lady 
Arundel (whose husband was now Constable of Windsor 
and was soon to become Duke of Norfolk) struck up a 
liaison with the young Earl of Shrewsbury. The Grand 
Prior of France, caught practically in flagrante with the 
Duchess of Portsmouth, was given twenty-four hours to 
leave the kingdom. By the blessed whim of Fate, the royal 
yacht assigned to waft him across the channel was named 
The Fubbs, after the duchess. Whitehall was normal again. 


Rue with 





HE WINTER of 1684 was so severe that the sea 
was frozen for two miles from shore, and the Thames was 
so solid that a "Blanket Fair" was held on the ice, with 
booths, sports, games, and ox-roasts. In the bitter frosts at 
the turn of the year, old Henry Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans, 
gave up the ghost, vacating an ancient and honored title. 
The King was quick to take advantage of the fact; on Janu- 
ary 5 he granted his beloved son, Charles, Earl of Burford, 
the title of Duke of St. Albans, with all the rights and 
privileges pertaining to that exalted rank. 

St. Albans' creation was accompanied by other signs of 
his nobleness. The King installed him in lodgings in White- 
hall, and to support his new dignity gave him an allowance 
of £1,500 a year. (Nell continued to draw £5,000 a year 
for herself.) As guarantees of future prosperity he was 
granted the offices of Chief Ranger of Enfield Chace and 
Master of the Hawks in reversion (inheritance) after the 
lives of the current incumbents. At the same time the 
canny King arranged a marriage for the boy ^^ ith Diana 
de Vere, the little heiress of the Earl of Oxford. (The \\ ed- 
ding ceremony was not performed until April 13, 1694.) 
Finally, that St. Albans' honors might "not unaccompanied 
invest him only," the King acknowledged Moll Davis's 
daughter by naming her Lady Mary Tudor and granting 
her "the place and precedency of the daughter of a duke 
of England." A goodly king and a careful father. 


258 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

At last Nell's boast that her son was as fit to be a duke 
as any of his half-brothers was justified, and her dearest 
ambition was fulfilled. She swelled with pride and happi- 
ness. For weeks "my lord duke"— a beautiful, mouth-filling 
phrase— was the burden of her conversation. In a sense she 
lost the boy when he moved across the Park to Whitehall, 
but she could see him daily throughout the winter, and at 
Windsor he lived with her in Burford House. Although 
he was not quite fourteen, he was treated as a man, with 
his own household of servants. Nell flourished in the aura 
of his splendor, especially when he appeared with his father 
on formal occasions. For instance, there was the time that 
spring when the Bishop of Rochester* preached before the 
King at Whitehall, and after the sermon His Majesty and 
three of his tall sons, the Dukes of Northumberland, Rich- 
mond, and St. Albans, went up to the altar and took com- 
munion under the eyes of the whole Court and a bevy of 
stately bishops. It was a sight to bring tears to three fond 
mothers' eyes. 

On April 14, at Burford House, Windsor, Nell dictated 
one of her rare letters— full of "my lord dukes"— addressed 
this time to Mrs. Frances Jennings, an old friend who was 
acting as her dressmaker and London agent. The bulk of 
the letter was a number of instructions to Mrs. Jennings, 
with some gentle chiding for past remissness. She was to 
finish some garments Nell had ordered, including a mantle 
which was to be Hned with "musk colored satin." She was 
to ask Lady Susan Williams (another old friend, a widow 
now engaged in trade) to send some "gold stuff" and with 
it a note for Nell to sign so that Lady Susan could get her 
money from Mr. Trant (Commissioner of the Excise Of- 

Rue ivith a Difference i^g 

fice); and "Pray tell my Lady Williams that the King's 
mistresses are accounted ill paymasters, but she shall have 
her money the next day after I have the stuff." (A knight's 
widow was not to be treated as an ordinary tradesman.) 
Mrs. Jennings was to send Beavour, a jeweler, Coker, a 
haberdasher, and Poietvin, an upholsterer, to Windsor for 
instructions. Nell wanted to buy a ring as a farewell present 
for Cleveland's son, the Duke of Grafton, before he left 
to join the French army besieging Luxembourg. (Louis 
XIV was at it again, this time attacking the Spanish Nether- 
lands.) "My lord duke" of St. Albans was planning on 
going to France with his half-brother, and the King was 
"mighty well pleased" that Mrs. Jennings' son-in-law, Ed- 
ward Griffith, was to accompany him. Poietvin was to bring 
down a number of things Nell had ordered, especially "my 
lord duke's bed." St. Albans, "the duke" (how she loved 
that title!), had recently arrived at Windsor, bringing 
Nell's new and much admired "crochet of diamonds," and 
she loved the jeweled clasp all the more because her noble 
son had brought it. 

Scattered among instructions were comments and news- 
items, set down just as they occurred to giddy Nell. "The 
bill is very dear to boil the plate [in the usual cleansing 
solution of red clay, salt, and alum] but necessity hath no 
law." "Monsieur Lainey [de Laune, St. Albans' tutor] is 
going away"— to France. "My service to dear Lord Kil- 
dare"— a friend and neighbor in St. James's Square. "I have 
continued extreme ill since you left me, and I am so still. 
I believe I shall die." "My service to the Duchess of Nor- 
folk [reported pregnant after seven years of marriage] and 
tell her I am as sick as her grace, but do not know what I 

26o Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

ail, although she does, which I am overjoyed that she goes 
on with her great belly." (The Duchess of Norfolk's great 
belly proved to be only the wind of rumor.) 

Nell ended her letter on a thoughtful note, the whimsical 
complaint of a middle-aged woman (she was thirty-four) 
who loved youth and laughter. Here were all the young 
men leaving Windsor to join the French army, and to Nell 
it was "a sad slaughter," but, remembering the departure 
of another young man for France— Portsmouth's lover, the 
Grand Prior— she hastened to add, "they are none of my 
lovers." The simple truth was that she was "loath to part 
with the men." She concluded in her usual friendly fash- 
ion, "Mrs. Jennings, I love you with all my heart, and so 

St. Albans, still too young for the pomp and circum- 
stance of glorious war, stayed at home after all, and did not 
finally go to France until January of the following year, 
when he set forth on the customary grand tour (France, 
Spain, and Italy) with a tutor, Mr. de Gachon. Dr. Lower, 
a Whig physician who attended Nell frequently and dur- 
ing his ministrations managed to "pick out of her all the 
intrigues of the Court," restored her to health. For the rest 
of the year she continued in her usual happy courses: fol- 
lowing the King in his wanderings, wagering on races, 
gambling at Lady Mazarin's house or in the Groom Porter's 
lodge at Whitehall, attending parties, dances, and the the- 
atre. Her income was paid regularly, and, as usual, spent 
well in advance. In December she made a long-term in- 
vestment, buying the lease of a house in Priest Street, 

Meanwhile the insatiable Duchess of Cleveland came out 

Rue with a Difference 261 

of retirement to whet the Court's appetite for scandal. 
Returning to England in March, 1684, she took a new 
lover, a scapegrace actor named Cardonnel Goodman, 
known to his underworld cronies as "Scum." After a few 
months Goodman distinguished himself by conspiring to 
poison two of her grace's sons, Grafton and Northumber- 
land. He was tried, convicted, and fined £1,000. The fine 
was duly paid and besotted Cleveland continued to nour- 
ish the Borgia in her bosom. Something over a year later 
(in April, 1686, when she was forty-five years old) she 
gave birth to her seventh child, a son, christened "Good- 
man Cleveland" by the fascinated gossips. Of course, even 
while she was indulging her lechery with her rakehell lover, 
the duchess was dunning the King for money; wearily he 
paid his debts and closed his eyes to her revels. 

England was at peace and prosperous. Content with his 
dogs, hawks, and horses, and shuttling regularly back and 
forth between Nell's house and Portsmouth's lodgings, the 
King left business to his ministers and pursued his usual 
rounds— Windsor in the summer, Winchester in September, 
Newmarket in October. Aging rapidly and tiring more 
easily, he was still cheerful and full of plans for the future. 
He gave no sign that he was growing restive under petti- 
coat rule— indeed, when Portsmouth was seriouslv ill in 
November he hastened to her bedside, and government 
stood still until she recovered— but he was thinking of new 
directions for his policy and new faces at his council table. 
The Duke of Buckingham was again "coming much into 
favor at Court"; the Duke of York, Portsmouth, and Lord 
Sunderland— the extreme Tories— \\'ere gradually losing 
control to such moderates as Lord Halifax; and, at the 

262 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

King's orders, secret overtures were made to Monmouth in 
Holland. There was even talk of calling a Parliament. 

Among other projects revolving in the King's devious 
mind was a plan to make Nelly a countess. Although he 
had no precedent for raising a base-bom commoner to the 
peerage, the thing could be done, and now, with his en- 
emies dead or in hiding, was the time to do it. Portsmouth, 
loaded with wealth and honors, could hardly object, and 
Nell's old enemy. Lord Danby, finally released from the 
Tower, was powerless. Nell had strong friends in high 
places: Henry Guy, Henry Savile, Sidney Godolphin, 
Lord Halifax, and Lawrence Hyde, now Earl of Rochester 
and President of the Council. 

Secretive as ever, the King hesitated to reveal his plans 
to Nell, but, as she told his brother some time in the fol- 
lowing year, he hinted to her that "the world should see by 
what he did for me that he had both love and value for me." 
However in some fashion the secret leaked out, even to 
the title designed to crown Nell's long and faithful service 
—Countess of Greenwich. But between the King's good 
intentions and his performance came the consequence of 
years of hard living, hard drinking, and disease. 

On Sunday night, February i, 1685, John Evelyn was a 
witness to "the inexpressible luxury and profaneness" of the 
Court at Whitehall, with King Charles "sitting and toying 
with his concubines, Portsmouth, Cleveland, and Mazarin, 
&c." (The et cetera was base-born Nell, whose name the 
aristocratic Evelyn could hardly bring himself to write.) 
He remarked also on "a French boy singing love songs in 
that glorious gallery, whilst about twenty of the great 
courtiers and other dissolute persons were at basset round 

Rue with a Difference 263 

a large table, a bank of at least £2,000 in gold before them." 
When the party broke up later that night, Nell bade her 
royal lover goodbye and jogged homeward across the Park 
in her chair, serenely unaware that she would never again 
see him alive. 

On the morning of February 2 (Nell's thirty-fifth birth- 
day) the King fell in a fit as he was dressing. Unaware of 
the nature of his ailment— chronic kidney disease— his physi- 
cians rushed to his aid with phlebotomy, plasters, and 
purges. For four days he was in almost constant agony, not 
only from periodic uremic convulsions, but also from the 
torture of blistering, scarifying, and cupping, and from 
massive doses of every known drug, from cream of tartar 
to quinine. Throughout he remained patient and uncom- 
plaining. Outside the palace a vast crowd gathered, waiting 
silently for news. There was no place for Nell at the King's 
bedside; the nearest she could come to him was the royal 
antechamber, crowded by a throng of anxious courtiers. 

On Thursday, when it became clear that the end was 
not far oJ0F, Portsmouth and the Duke of York helped 
Charles achieve his secret longing: to die in the Catholic 
faith. Father Huddleston (his old comrade on the flight 
from Worcester many years ago), brought to his chamber 
by a secret door, administered the last rites of the church 
and left him at peace with God. Thereafter, until late the 
next morning, his mind was clear. "He often spoke quite 
aloud to the Duke of York in terms full of tenderness and 
friendship; he twice recommended to him the Duchess of 
Portsmouth and the Duke of Richmond. He made no men- 
tion of the Duke of Monmouth, good or bad." While his 
mistresses wept in the antechamber, the tearful Queen, his 

264 Nell Gnjoyn: Royal Mistress 

friends, and his children knelt at his bedside. He spoke 
tenderly to them all, and once, with a touch of his old wry 
humor, murmured that he was sorry to be so long in dying. 
Once again he recommended his children to his brother's 
care and added, "Let not poor Nelly starve." Thereafter 
he lay dozing, "and after some conflicts, his physicians 
despairing of him, he gave up the ghost at half an hour after 
eleven in the morning, being 6 February 1685, in the 36th 
year of his reign and 54th of his age." A few hours later 
his successor. King James II, was proclaimed at Whitehall 
Gate. The loyal citizens shouted with dutiful joy and 
trudged away, shaking their heads sadly. For all his faults, 
Charles had been a good king. 

No one is less pitied than a dead man's mistress. How- 
ever real her grief, she must wear her rue with a difference. 
As ladies in waiting. King Charles's mistresses could don 
the customary solemn black worn by all the Court, but 
they could make no further show of sorrow. Envoys sent 
to "condole the death of the late King" were received by 
the Dowager Queen "on a bed of mourning, the whole 
chamber, ceiling and floor, hung with black," but when 
Nell Gwyn and Portsmouth sought to deck their rooms in 
mourning they were forbidden. The duchess was not per- 
mitted even "to use that sort of nails [studs] about her 
coach and chair which, it seems, is kept as a distinction 
for the royal family on such an occasion, and had else been 
put on by her." The King's bastards were members of the 
royal family; their mothers were not. 

In the privacy of their own homes the ladies who had 
shared the King's bed longest and with most profit to them- 
selves and to the English peerage sorrowed for his passing. 

Rue zuith a Difference 265 

Each had loved him in her own way. Even to Cleveland 
his death was at least as painful as that of a husband, or a lap- 
dog, while to Nell and Portsmouth it was tragedy, poign- 
ant and unalloyed. For seventeen years in Nell's case, for 
fifteen in Portsmouth's, Charles had been lover, husband, 
friend, and keeper. He had given them and their children 
wealth, jewels, houses, and honors. In return Nell had 
given him all her heart with unstinting devotion; even 
Portsmouth had loved him in her fashion. At his death the 
two women lost influence, prestige, and all hopes for the 
future.* Portsmouth's reign was ended, and Nell's long- 
sought coronet remained an unsubstantial dream. 

Of course all the King's ladies suffered in purse. Moll 
Davis, clouded by obscurity, had little to lose and not long 
to live. In 1687, some time after she married her daughter 
to Francis Radcliff e, later Earl of Derwentwater, her house 
in St. James's Square passed into other hands, and Moll 
was lost in the mist of time. The Duchess of Mazarin had 
much to lose and a strong reason to "shed floods of tears": 
the King's death ended her allowance of £4,000 a year. 
King James gave her a small pension, which was continued 
by his successor, but she dwindled rapidly into an old age 
of cards and brandy, moved eventually to a small house in 
Chelsea, and died in squalid poverty on June 2, 1699, in 
her fifty-third year. 

Through three successive reigns the Duchess of Cleve- 
land clung like a leech to her pension— £4,700 a year out 
of the Post Office— but with no one to badger for addi- 
tional cash she spent the rest of her life deeply in debt. She 
moved in a violent sub-world of gamesters, sharpers, and 
rakes, and as her beauty waned she was reduced to taking^ 

2 66 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

her lovers from among her domestics. At sixty-four, short- 
ly after her first husband's death, she married, on Novem- 
ber 25, 1705, General Robert Fielding, a rogue who 
committed bigamy when he promised to "love, honor, and 
cherish" her. When his crime was discovered there was a 
scandalous lawsuit which ended with the marriage an- 
nulled and Fielding in prison. Disappointed and bitter, the 
duchess took her frustrated lusts to a small village in Mid- 
dlesex, where she died "of a dropsy" on October 9, 1709. 

Three days after King Charles's death, the Duchess of 
Portsmouth, fearing Whig reprisals, fled to sanctuary at 
the French Ambassador's house. In her panic she wanted 
to sail for France at once, but King James promised her his 
protection, offered her an allowance of £3,000 a year, and 
insisted that she remain in England until she had paid her 
debts and returned some crown jewels in her possession. 
Reassured, she returned to Whitehall, and her greed over- 
came her fears. Rejecting the King's proffered pittance with 
scorn, she fought long and hard to retain the £19,000 a 
year granted her by King Charles and the £25,000 a year 
she claimed as her dues from the Irish revenue. She was 
permitted to keep the first but not the second. When she 
sailed for France in August her total w^ealth included the 
ducal fief of Aubigny in France, granted her by Louis 
XIV, large sums invested in France, £5,000 a year from 
properties in England, £19,000 a year from the Post Of- 
fice, a magnificent collection of jewels and plate, and literal- 
ly shiploads of furniture, coaches, sedan-chairs, and house- 
hold goods. 

The echoes of her fall from power had hardly died 
away in February, 1685, when the Whig poets were in the 

Rue with a Difference 16-] 

streets with their mock-elegies. "The Duchess of Ports- 
mouth's Farewell" presented moral Nell Gwyn lecturing 
her sinful rival, while the sad duchess lamented "the 
wretched state" of her affairs. In "A Pleasant Dialogue be- 
tween Two Wanton Ladies of Pleasure" Nell scolded 
Portsmouth for her greed, lust, and pride, and the duchess 
declared her intention of returning to France and setting 
up as a bawd. "Portsmouth's Lamentation; or, a Dialogue 
between Two Amorous Ladies, E.G. and D.P." pictured 
Nell as rejoicing over her rival's fall and giving sage ad- 
vice, while Portsmouth complained at having to pay her 

From hence I thought for to convey 

What in this land I gained. 
But I am here confined to stay. 

And now my credit's stained. 

Poor Nelly's credit was not stained— it was wiped out. 
Heedless of a day of reckoning, she had "run o' the' score" 
with tradesmen until she was thousands of pounds in debt. 
Now, aware that her pension ceased with King Charles's 
death, her creditors ravened at her door, and King James 
paid no attention to appeals for the renewal of her allow- 
ance. She owned valuable properties, but since they were 
entailed upon her son they could not be sold, and they 
could be mortgaged only with his consent. She hesitated 
to sell her personal possessions, knowing quite wtW that, al- 
though in time King James might pay her debts, he \\^ould 
never replace pearl necklaces and silver bedsteads. 

The new King was a strict, formal man, surrounded by 
guards and priests, and very busy preparing for the spring 

2 68 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

session of Parliament; she could not appeal to him in per- 
son. However, James Graham, Keeper of the Privy Purse, 
carried messages back and forth. The King had her in 
mind, but for the moment he offered only vague promises: 
he would take care of her "business" in due time— as usual 
Nell came last. Reluctantly, under the pressure of clamor- 
ous threats, Nell mortgaged her Bestwood Park estates for 
some £3,500, borrowed from her bankers, Child and 
Rogers, about £6,000 on her jewels and plate, and per- 
suaded Henry Guy to advance her £1,000 from the 

Even these large amounts were not enough to satisfy all 
her creditors. When all her cash had been doled out, she 
was still in debt to the amount of £729. 2s. 3d., and the 
vindictive Shylocks of the city had her outlawed. She was 
in no danger of debtors' prison, but her credit was worth- 
less and would remain so until her debts were paid to the 
last farthing. Meanwhile, with a large establishment to 
maintain and her income cut by £5,000 a year, she had 
very Httle to live on. Sometime in May she sent King 
James a passionate little note which began "Had I suffered 
for my God as I have done for your brother and you, I 
should not have needed either of your kindness or justice 
to me." She begged him for an interview, and urged him 
not to do anything about her affairs until she had a chance 
to speak to him. Fate had balked her of the coronet she 
had set her heart on; now she must strive mightily to save 
her hard-won wealth— for her own sake, of course, but 
more for the sake of her noble son, "my lord duke." 



I 6 8 5 - I 6 8 -J 



OMETIME in May, 1685, King James took a few 
moments from the cares of state to consider Nell's "busi- 
ness." By nature he was neither generous nor forgiving, 
and he had no reason to love the little Whig who had been 
so outspoken in support of his enemy, the Duke of Mon- 
mouth. But King Charles had urged him not to let poor 
Nelly starve, and James was at least a man of honor. There- 
fore he sent Mr. Graham to Nell with a considerable (but 
unspecified) sum of money and a number of "kind expres- 
sions" and assurances for the future. 

Nell was surprised and pleased. Her answering letter be- 
gan, "This world is not capable of giving me a greater joy 
and happiness than your Majesty's favor." She was grate- 
ful not only for the money, which, she said extravagantly, 
had brought her "out of the last extremity," but also for 
the "great comfort" of his pledges. In return she prom- 
ised, "All you do for me shall be yours, it being my resolu- 
tion never to have any interest but yours, and as long as I 
live to serve you, and when I die, to die praying for you." 
No more Whiggery! The old, friendly, tolerant days were 
gone, but she could not help reverting to them wistfully 
as she thought of the dead King. "He told me before he 
died," she said, "that the world should see by what he did 
for me that he had love and value for me. . . . He was 
my friend and allowed me to tell him all my griefs, and did 


272 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

like a friend advise me and told me who was my friend and 
who was not." James could be kind, but he could never be 
her "friend" in any sense of the word. 

With enough money on hand to tide her over until the 
King's promises could be carried out, Nell took the cash 
to Windsor and let the credit go until autumn. She was at 
Windsor when the Duke of Monmouth, accompanied 
only by a hundred or so adventurers and desperadoes, 
landed in the west at Lyme Regis (June 11), declared him- 
self king and his uncle a usurper, and called upon all loyal 
subjects to rally to his standard. With many others Nell 
watched fearfully from afar as thousands of Protestant 
yeomen, armed with ancient muskets, swords, pikes, and 
even scythes, flocked to join Monmouth, eager to depose 
a Catholic king; and the King's Guards and militia hurried 
to the scene of the revolt. For three weeks there were 
skirmishes and minor battles as the two armies maneuvered. 
Then, on the night of July 6, Monmouth threw his forces 
in a surprise night attack against the royal army at Sedge- 
moor, and had it not been for the alertness of General 
John Churchill (second in command) the crown of Eng- 
land might well have changed heads. As it was, the rebels 
were crushed and routed; two days later Monmouth was 
found asleep in a ditch and captured. 

There was no need to try a traitor caught red-handed in 
the act of treason. Monmouth had one brief, painful inter- 
view with King James and then was sent to the Tower to 
be executed. This time there were no kind-hearted ladies 
to plead his cause. Nell could only mourn— but in secret— 
when, on July 15, the misguided pretender bared his neck 
to the headsman's axe. She had loved the man. 

Joy in Heaven 273 

But her volatile spirits could not long remain depressed. 
Summer was a time for gaiety; all England quickly forgot 
the brief rebellion, except in the west, where mad Judge 
Jeffreys presided over the "Bloody Assizes." The King 
and Court, following the custom set in the previous reign, 
spent the summer at Windsor. Nell still had "a thousand 
merry conceits," and dozens of intimates to share them 

One of her best friends, Mary Howard (nee Mordaunt) , 
the twenty-six-year-old Duchess of Norfolk, invited her 
often to Windsor Castle for Cards. That summer my 
lady duchess (tired of the Earl of Shrewsbury) was flirt- 
ing with a handsome, Anglo-Dutch adventurer, Mr. John 
Germaine, aged thirty-five, and said to be an illegitimate 
son of William II of Orange (if so, he was half-brother to 
the then Prince William) . Nell was the duchess's confidant 
in the affair and willing either to make sport herself or help 
it at need. 

One day in August the Duke of Norfolk's duties took 
him on an extended trip to Portsmouth. The night of his 
departure, the duchess invited Nell, Germaine, and Colonel 
Henry Cornwall for a foursome at cards. In spite of the 
chill of the evening, two of the players were warm with 
ardent anticipation. So far the duchess had not yielded to 
Germaine's advances, but now her eyes glittered, her face 
was flushed, and her bare shoulders and bosom ^^ ere moist 
under the powder. Nell watched her with half-envious 
amusement; the Dutch Lothario had made love to her, too. 
At one time in the course of the game, the two ladies \\xnt 
to ''the Green Room" to repair their complexions, and 
Nell was overheard to say that "the dog [Germaine] 

2 74 ^^^^ Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

would have Iain with her, but she would not lay the dog 
where the deer [King Charles] laid." However— alas for 
fidelity!— her chief reason for refusing Germaine was that 
"she knew my lady duchess w^ould have him." She had to 
make her boast: she could have had him herself, but she 
would not be her friend's rival. 

The Duchess of Norfolk made no answer— none was 
needed— and the two went back to their cards. When the 
party finally ended and Nell and Colonel Cromwell left, 
Germaine secretly sent his footman for clean linen and 
spent the night in the arms of his charming duchess. The 
next morning her grace, who as wife of the Constable of 
Windsor held a daily levee, ordered a fire built in her hus- 
band's bedchamber, left Germaine asleep in her own bed, 
and prepared to receive callers. She was a picture of bland 
innocence as she lay in bed with a maid combing her hair. 

Impatient for the bawdy details, Nell was the first caller. 
"Good morning to your grace," she said, "how did you 
rest last night?" "Very well," replied the duchess, with a 
frown and a side-long glance at the maid. Nell paid no 
heed to the warning and asked about Germaine's health. 
The Duchess of Norfolk said virtuously that she knew 
nothing of the gentleman's condition, and, to turn the con- 
versation, complained of her hair being out of order. Mer- 
rilly Nell commented that it had been a hot night with her 
grace, hot enough to put her hair out of powder and curl 
too! At this point in came Colonel Cornwall, who winked 
at Nell, bowed to her grace, and said, "How doth Mr. 
Germaine?" "Why do you ask me?" snapped the duchess. 
Said Cornwall, "He did not lie at home last night." Before 
the duchess could answer, Nell said, "I question not but he 

foy in Heaven 275 

will come out by-and-by like a drowned rat." And sure 
enough, after a while in came Germaine, proudly showing 
off his alibi of clean linen. 

To Nell, the comedian, the Duchess of Norfolk's ad- 
venture in adultery was only a cause for merriment and 
salty jesting. Unfortunately the Duke of Norfolk had no 
such sense of humor. Emboldened by success, the duchess 
continued her liaison, failed to take precautions against 
surprise, and a month later was "found in bed with one 
Germaine, to her great scandal." Norfolk sent her abroad 
for a year, tried a reconciliation, failed, and then arranged 
a legal separation. Thereafter the duchess lived secretly 
with Germaine until 1700, when, after several lawsuits and 
bills in the House of Lords, Norfolk was granted a divorce. 
Then she married her lover. 

While Nell was teasing the Hckerish Duchess of Nor- 
folk at Windsor, another duchess, Portsmouth, was sailing 
for France in a ship laden with her loot. Although she re- 
turned to England from time to time to look after her af- 
fairs, she had no further dealings with Nell. Rich and 
respected, Portsmouth bought a house in Paris and for 
some years lived in grand style, forever reminding King 
Louis of her distinguished services in the cause of France. 
But in 1689, when William and Mary succeeded James II, 
all her English pensions were cut off, her creditors fell 
upon her, and she realized at last that the wages of sin are 
debt. King Louis saved her from want by a series of de- 
crees forbidding foreclosure on her goods and chattels. She 
retired to her country estates and spent the rest of her long 
life in penitence and poverty, dying on November 14, 
1734, at the age of eighty-five. 

276 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

In September, 1685, King James, now firmly established 
on his throne and well suppHed with funds by a sullen 
ParHament, again turned his attention to NelFs affairs. His 
first action was to pay the £729. 2s. 3d. to "several trades- 
men, creditors of Mrs. Ellen Gwyn, in satisfaction of their 
debts, for which the said Ellen stood outlawed." In addi- 
tion he gave Nell a Treasury note for £1,300 in Septem- 
ber, and in December two cash payments of £500 each as 
"bounty", out of the Secret Service funds. Most important 
of all, he settled on her a pension of £1,500 a year, be- 
ginning with January i, 1686. Later in that year he began 
paying off her mortgage on the Bestwood Park estates. By 
the time the final payment was made on October 18, 1687, 
the total (with accumulated interest) came to £3,774. 2s. 
6d. He refused, however, to pay Nell's personal note to 
Child and Rogers. At the time of her death that indebted- 
ness amounted to £6,900, which was paid off in part by the 
proceeds from the sale of her plate and in part by a gift of 
£2,300 from the King. 

Following the precedent set by his brother, James re- 
fused to trust giddy Nell with too much cash in hand. His 
agents, Richard Graham, Sir Stephen Fox, and Francis 
G Wynne (Secretary of the Council and no relation to 
Nell), acted as her trustees, handled most of the money, 
and saw that it reached its proper destinations. One reveal- 
ing document shows something of the King's caution. The 
Treasury note for £1,300 acknowledged on its face the 
(purely fictitious) loan of that sum to the Treasury by 
Francis Gwynne. The note was to bear interest at seven 
per cent per annum, and to be paid from a tax on imports. 
On a folded sheet used as a cover for the note Gwynne 

Joy in Heaven ij-j 

wrote, "My name is herein used in trust only for Mrs. 
Eleanor Gwyn, whose money this is." In short, Nell could 
not cash the note without Gwynne's endorsement. On 
May 14, 1686, she talked him into assigning the note to 
her, and three days later she cashed it with Charles Dun- 
combe, the banker. 

Nell had to adapt herself to a less extravagant way of 
life, a process made easy by the fact that King James af- 
fected "neither profaneness nor buffoonery," and "the face 
of the whole Court was exceedingly changed into a more 
solemn and moral behavior." There was no more reckless 
gaming, and the open keeping of mistresses was frowned 
on, the King setting a good example by exiling his latest 
mistress, Katherine Sedley (Sir Charles Sedley's daugh- 
ter), to Ireland, after first creating her Countess of Dor- 
chester. Nell's old friends of "the merry gang," the wild, 
dissolute Wits of her youth, were rapidly disappearing. 
Rochester and Scroope were dead, and Sir Charles Sedley 
had reformed; Sir George Etherege went off as Ambassa- 
dor to Ratisbon; Lord Dorset departed for his country 
estates, taking Fleetwood Shepherd along; Buckingham re- 
tired to Yorkshire, amused himself a-hunting, and died of 
a fever on April 16, 1687; Harry Savile disagreed with 
James's pro-Catholic policies, resigned, went to France for 
a surgical operation, and died on October 6, 1687; Henry 
Guy, still a bachelor, was busy heaping up wealth; only 
mad Harry Killigrew remained untouched by time. Some 
of Nell's feminine friends were still with her, but Mrs. 
Mary Young was dead; Lady Harvey w^s in retirement; 
Peg Hughes had returned to the stage; Lady Shrewsbury 
and Arabella Churchill (now Mrs. Charles Godfrey) wqic 

278 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

devoted to domesticity; and in 1686 the Duchess of Nor- 
folk was in a French nunnery. 

It was a very different world. There were no rivals for 
Nell to fight with, humiliate, and outshine, no royal lover 
to entertain (at considerable expense), and nothing to work 
for. Without interest or influence, Nell could do nothing 
to get further honors for her son. King James was kind to 
his nephews, but he had a bastard of his own, James Fitz- 
james, Duke of Berwick, to promote. It was not until 1 7 1 8, 
in the reign of George I, that St. Albans gained the long 
coveted Order of the Garter— for his own merits, not his 
mother's services. 

Changed as it was, the world still held pleasures for Nell 
—music, plays, fashions, friends, her son (who returned 
from the grand tour in 1686), and the daily bustle and ex- 
citement of life. From the autumn of 1685 to the spring of 
1687 the gossips almost forgot her. We learn that at some 
time in this period the public workhouse painted a coat of 
arms for her, "per pale, arg. and or, a lion rampant, azure." 
Evelyn recorded with a sneer the rumor that she had 
turned Catholic, and failed to record the fact that she re- 
mained a staunch Protestant. Occasionally a libeler men- 
tioned her in passing, usually as "old Nelly," "one of the 
wrinkled rout," "ugly-faced Nelly," and the like— epithets 
which were cruel enough but based on some measure of 
truth. She was thirty-six, and the normal life span in Resto- 
ration England was not more than forty years. In a period 
ignorant of sanitation, dietetics, and dentistry, and almost 
without medicine, a woman of Nell's age had little hope of 
retaining her youthful beauty. Add also that she had long 
suffered from the most dreaded of occupational diseases, 

Joy in Heaven 279 

acquired from one of her earlier lovers and rapidly ap- 
proaching its last stage, with hardening of the arteries and 
high blood pressure as its warning signs. Increasingly of 
late years there had been periods of sickness, with slower 
recovery after each attack as the weakened machine ran 

Early in March, 1687, Nell was stricken by apoplexy, 
with resultant paralysis of one side of her body. For a few 
weeks her recovery was doubted and one gossip even re- 
ported her death, but in April there were encouraging 
signs of improvement. In late May apoplexy struck again, 
and this time the doctors saw no hope. The elm trees in 
Pall Mall came into full leaf and grew dry and brittle in 
the heat of summer, but Nell lay helpless in the great silver 
bed, with its cupids, eagles, and crowns. She had many 
visitors, of course— her son, her sister Rose Forster, Lady 
Lucy Sandys, Mall Knight, Dame Margery Fairborne, and 
many another friend and neighbor. Clergymen, scenting a 
lamb to be saved, came to point the way to Heaven; chief 
among the shepherds were Nell's chaplain, John Warner, 
and Dr. Thomas Tennison, rector of St. Martin's Church. 

Could there be salvation without penitence? Could there 
be penitence without awareness of sin? As a good Protes- 
tant and Whig, Nell had gone to church with reasonable 
regularity, paid her assessments, and donated to the poor. 
True, she had given her heart and body to more than one 
man, but she had been faithful to each in his turn. Loving 
pleasure herself, she had spent her life giving pleasure to 
others, as actress, entertainer, and mistress. In her large and 
generous way she had made many people happy and had 
consciously injured no one, except, perhaps, that weeping 

2 8o Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

willow, Portsmouth. True, she had been a whore, but 
what then? Whoring was in fashion; it was no more than 
a craft or trade. Dimly she knew that she had sinned, but 
use and custom had long ago suppressed all sense of guilt. 
Dr. Tennison, a man of "a most holy conversation, very 
learned and ingenious," labored to open Nell's eyes. To 
her bedside he summoned all the hosts of hell in a preview 
of purgatory, its sulphurous and tormenting fires. Only 
repentance, confession, and piety could save her. Shrinking 
from the flames, Nell repented in anguished tears, saw the 
light of Heaven break, and spent her last days "in hopes of 
a joyful resurrection." 

On July 9 Nell made her will (signing with her custom- 
ary "E.G."), commending her soul "into the hands of 
Almighty God," and bequeathing her worldly dross to 
her son. As executors she appointed four old friends: Hen- 
ry Sidney; Lawrence Hyde, now Earl of Rochester; Sir 
Robert Sawyer, the Attorney-General; and Thomas Her- 
bert, now Earl of Pembroke, once her chivalrous defender 
in the Duke's Theatre. In October she added two codicils 
to the document. By that time she was so completely par- 
alysed that she could barely talk; therefore the codicils 
were not signed but only "attested and acknowledged." 

The gossips who judged Nell to be worth about £ioo,- 
000 ("a great many say more, few less") were not exag- 
gerating; certainly she possessed "a considerable estate," 
thanks largely to the foresight of King Charles who had 
tied up all her properties with trusts and entails. Her will 
merely referred to her "houses, lands, tenements, offices, 
places, pensions, annuities, and hereditaments" with no in- 
ventory or estimate of values, but her Pall Mall house alone 

Joy in Heaven 281 

was worth at least £10,000, and Burford House at Wind- 
sor, a much larger building with extensive grounds, was 
worth twice as much. Then there was Bestwood Park, her 
incomes from Ireland, the logwood tax, and other invest- 
ments; and all her personal property, mortgaged and un- 
mortgaged. St. Albans could hardly grudge the £1,500 or 
so which Nell gave to friends, kinfolk, and charity. 

To her sister Rose, Nell gave a total of £400, plus £40 
to Rose's husband for a mourning ring. Captain William 
Cholmly, Nell's "kinsman," was to have £100. She gave 
her executors £100 each, and John Warner and Dame 
Margery Fairborne £50 apiece for mourning rings. Her 
physicians, Drs. Harrell, Le Fevre, Lower, and Lister, 
were each to receive £20 in addition to the amount of his 
bill, and Dr. Harrell's nephew (his assistant) was to have 
£10. She ordered that all her servants should be given a 
year's wages and mourning clothes, and singled out two of 
them for additional gifts: John Berry, porter, £10, and 
Bridget Long, "who had been her servant for divers years," 
£20 a year for life. She even remembered her two nurses, 
Anne Edling and Elizabeth Hawkes, with "ten pounds 
each and mourning, besides their wages due them." Finally 
she provided for a mysterious pensioner, "Lady Holly- 
man," who was to have her dole of "ten shillings a week 
continued to her during the said lady's life." 

Nell's gifts to the poor of St. Martin's Parish Mere not 
large, but the subjects of her charity were purposefully 
chosen. In pious remembrance of her father's death at Ox- 
ford she entrusted Dr. Tennison with £100 "for taking 
any poor debtors . . . out of prison, and for clothes this 
winter, and other necessaries, as he shall find most fit." To 

282 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

this she added a request that the Duke of St. Albans would 
"lay out twenty pounds yearly for the releasing of poor 
debtors out of prison every Christmas day." Then— an 
unusual bequest in a bigoted age— she gave Warner and 
Tennison £50 for the use of the Catholic poor of the parish 
—to show her charity toward those who differed from her 
in religion. 

Through the slow months of autumn Nell clung to life 
with surprising tenacity, wasting almost visibly day by 
day. At last, on November 14, 1687, at ten o'clock at 
night, her brief candle flickered out. Three days later she 
was buried in the chancel of St. Martin's Church with all 
the pomp and expensive panoply (cost: £375) befitting 
the mother of a royal duke. To a large congregation of her 
sorrowing friends Dr. Tennison preached a funeral sermon 
on the daring text, "joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner 
that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just per- 
sons who need no repentance." 

She was hardly in her grave when a pair of eager poetas- 
ters, with their eyes on St. Albans' purse, produced their 
elegiac tributes. "Laurinda, a Pastoral on the Lamented 
Death of the Incomparable Madam Gwyn" expressed "in 
dewy verse" the grief of a poet who mourned Nell's passing 
in such restrained lines as these: 

'Twas always spring, for when the sun retired, 
Her warmer beams the vocal groves inspired, 
Her cheerful looks the winter's rage beguiled, 
Her smiles made summer, and she always smiled. 

The author of "An Elegy in Commemoration of Madam 
Eleanor Gwyn," writing in even dewier verse, suggested 

Joy in Heaven 283 

. . . some may cast objections in and say 

These scattered praises that we seek to lay 

Upon her hearse are but the formal way. 

Yet when we tell them she was free from strife, 

Courteous even to the poor, no pride of hfe. 

E'er entertaining, but did much abound 

In charity, and for it was renowned; 

Not seeking praises, but did vain praise despise, 

And at her alms was heard no trumpet noise; 

And how again we let them further see 

That she refused and hated flattery, 

And far from her dissemblers did command. 

We may have hopes her fame for this will stand. 

Could he have looked down through the centuries, our 
poet would have been astonished to see how long Nell's 
fame for kindness, humility, and charity has lasted. Con- 
vinced that she was "a good sort," one of their very own 
kind, and attracted by the romance of her rise from rags to 
riches, the English-speaking people have long cherished 
her as "pretty, witty Nell," the impudent little comedian 
who became a great lady and never lost the common touch. 
Today her name is used to glorify tea-shops, restaurants, 
apartment houses, taverns, and a brand of marmalade! 

But the real Nell Gwyn was even more human and lov- 
able than the legendary figure. Her worldly success \\ as 
due far more to spirit than to flesh; she was no lustful Lais 
or mercenary Messalina. She never maddened men with 
her beauty; she tickled them with her wit. Unfortunately 
her contemporaries recorded all too little of her conversa- 
tion and too few of her bon mots. Moreover, her way of 
speaking and gesturing, the tone of her laughter and the 

284 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

joyous spontaneity of her whimsies— as ephemeral as the 
art of the actor— could not be recorded. She spoke her 
"graceful things . . . with such an air, so gay," that we 
can only lament that "half the beauty's lost in the 

Friendly and kind, witty and giddy, honest and loyal, 
Nell was above all ambitious and hard-working. By nature 
humorous, pleasure-loving, and frankly carnal, she chose 
prostitution as an honorable and lucrative profession in an 
age when the successful courtesan was socially approved. 
Brought up in the rough schools of bawdyhouse and Resto- 
ration theatre, she quickly grew skilled in the art of pleas- 
ing, and with honest realism she employed her skill to get 
far more out of life than her birth and breeding warranted. 
Although she never attained her ambition to be a countess, 
she kept the affections of King Charles II for seventeen 
years against formidable competition, founded a line of 
noble descendants entitled to wear the bar-sinister on their 
shields, and left her son rich in dignities and property. She 
earned every bit of her success. 




O LETTERS in Nell's handwriting have ever been 
found. The six printed here were all dictated to amanuenses. 
They are taken verbatim either from the originals or from 
authenticated copies. The original of Letter I is in the Wid- 
ener Collection, Harvard College Library. The originals of 
Letters II and III were found in Kilkenny Castle, Ireland, and 
first printed by Gordon Goodwin in his edition of Cunning- 
ham's Nell Gwyn (1908). Letter IV is from a copy of the 
original made by the Reverend William Cole on November 
16, 1774. The original has since disappeared; the copy is in 
British Museum Additional MS. 5847. The originals of Let- 
ters V and VI are in B.M. Additional MS. 21, 483. Although 
without address or signature, the context clearly indicates 
they were from Nell to James 11. The handwriting is suspici- 
ously like that of the amanuensis (perhaps Nell's maid, Bridget 
Long) who wrote Letter I. 

[Nell Gv^n to Lawrence Hyde, June, 1678.] 

pray Dear M"" Hide forgive me for not writeing to you 
before now for the reasone is I have ben sick thre months & 
sinse I recoverd I have had nothing to intertaine you withall 
nor have nothing now worth writing but that I can holde no 
longer to let you know I never have ben in any companie 
wethout drinking your health for I love you with all my soule 


2 88 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 

the pell mel is now to me a dismale plase sinse I have uter- 
ly lost S"" Car Scrope never to be recovrd agane for he tould 
me he could not live allwayes at this rate & so begune to be a 
littel uncivil v^hich I could not sufer from an uglye baux 
garscon M" Knights Lady mothers dead & she has put up 
a scutchin no beiger then my Lady grins scunchis My 
lord Rochester is gon in the cuntrei M"" Savil has got a mis- 
fortune but is upon recovery & is to mary an airres who I 
thinke wont wont have an ill time ont if he holds up his 
thumb My lord of Dorscit apiers wonse in thre munths 

for he drinkes aile with Shadwell & M"" Haris at the Dukes 
house all day long my lord Burf ord remimbers his sarvis to 
you my Lord Bauclaire is is goeing into France we 
are a goeing to supe with the king at whithale & my Lady 
Harvie the king remembers his sarvis to you now lets 

talk of state affairs for we never caried things so cunningly as 
now for we dont know whether we shall have pesce or war 
but I am for war and for no other reason but that you may 
come home I have a thousand merry conseets but I cant 
make her write um & therfore you must take the will for the 
deed god bye your most loveing obedient faithful & 





[Nell Gwyn to James, Duke of Ormonde, Lord Lieutenant 
of Ireland, September 4, 1682.] 

My Lord 

This is to beg a favour of your Grace, w*'^ I hope you 
will stand my friend in I lately gott a freind of mine to 
advance me on my Irish peficon halfe a year's Pay"* for last 
Lady Day (wch all People have rec^^ but me) and I drew 

Appendix 289 

bills upon M"" Laurence Steele my Agent for ye Pay"* of ye 
money, nott thinking but long before this ye bills had been 
paid: but contrary to my expectation I last night re''^ advice 
from him y* ye bills are Protested, & he cannot receive any 
money without yo"" Grace's Positive order to ye Farmers 
for it. 

Your Grace formerly upon the King's Letter (w'^*' this 
inclosed is the coppy of) was so much mine and Mrs. Forster's 
freind as to give necessary orders for our Pay™*% notwith- 
standing the stop. I hope you will obleige me now, upon this 
request to give yo'" direcons to ye Farmers; y* we may be 
paid our Arrears; and what is growing due & you will obleige 

My Lord 

Your Grace's most humble 
serv* to command 

Ellen Gwin. 


[Nell Gwyn to Richard, Earl of Arran, eldest son of the 
Duke of Ormonde and Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 
November 26, 1682.] 

My Lord 

I hope yo'* Lords^^ will now obleige me so much as to 
stand my Freind. I have w*^ much Importunity gott ye Lords 
of the Treary to give an order to my Lord Ormond to cause 
the Arrears of my Peiicon stopt in Ireland to be paid what is 
due to me to last Michas with my sisters Mrs. Forster & others 
whome their Letter mencons: my Agent is M'" Laurence 
Steele to whom I have sent this letter to diliver to your Lord- 
shp hoping for my sake you will be pleased to give him a 
speedy dispatch in this businesse & obleige your Lor'^^" most 
humble servant to command 

Ellen: Gwin 

290 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress 


[Nell Gwyn to Airs. Frances Jennings, April 14, 1684.] 

For Madam Jennings 

over against the Tub Tavern 
in Jermin Street Windsor 

London Burford House 

Aprill 14 


I have received y^ Letter, & I desire y" would speake to 
my Ladie Williams to send me the gold Stuffe, & a Note with 
it, because I must sign it, then she shall have her Money y* 
next Day of Mr. Trant; pray tell her Ladieship, that I will 
send her a note of what Quantity of Things Fie have bought, 
if her Ladieship will put herself e to y^. Trouble to buy them; 
when they are bought I will sign a Note for her to be payd. 
Pray Madam, let y^ Man goe on with my Sedan, & send Pot- 
vin & Mr. Coker down to me, for I want them both. The Bill 
is very dear to boyle the Plate; but Necessity hath noe Law. 
I am afraid M"". you have forgott my Mantle, which you 
were to line with Musk Colour Sattin, & all my other Things, 
for you send me noe Patterns nor Answer. Monsieur Lainey 
is going away. Pray send me Word about your Son Griffin, 
for his Majestie is mighty well pleasd that he will goe along 
with my Lord Duke. I am afraid you are soe much taken up 
with your owne House, that you forgett my Businesse. My 
Service to dear Lord Kildare, & tell him I love him with all 
my Heart. Pray Ai". see that Potvin brings now all my 
Things with him: my Lord Duke's Bed &c. if he hath not 
made them all up, he may doe that here for if I doe not get 
my Things out of his Hands now, I shall not have them until 

Appendix 291 

this Time Twelve-month. The Duke brought me down with 
him my Crochet of Diamonds, & I love it the better because 
he brought it. Mr. Lumley, & everie Body else will tell you 
that it is the finest Thing that ever was seen. Good M"*. 
speake to Mr. Beaver to come down too, that I may bespeake 
a Ring for the Duke of Grafton before he goes into France. 

I have continued extream ill ever since you Leaft me, & I 
am soe still. I have sent to London for a D'". I beUeve I shall 
die. My Service to the Dutchesse of Norfolk, & tell her I am 
as sick as her Grace, but doe not know what I ayle, although 
shee does, which I am overjoyed that shee goes on with her 
great Belly. 

Pray tell my Ladie WiUiams, that the King's Mistresses 
are accounted ill-pay-Masters, but shee shall have her Money 
the next Day after I have the Stuffe. 

Here is sad Slaughter at Windsor, the young Men's taking 
y^ Leaves & going to France, & although they are none of my 
Lovers, yet I am loath to part with the Men. Mrs. Jennings I 
love you with all my Heart, & soe good by. 

E. G. 

Let me have an Answer to this Letter. 

[Nell Gwyn to James II, April or May, 1685.] 

had I suferd for my God as I have don for y"" brother and 

y" I shuld not have needed ether of y'" Kindnes or iustis to me 
I beseecch you not to doe any thing to the setling of my 

buisines till I speake w^^ you and a poynt me by M' Grahams 

wher I may speake w*^ you privetly God make you as 

happy as my soule prays you may be, y" 

292 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 


[Nell Gwyn to James II, April or May, 1685.] 

This world is not capable of giving me a greater ioy and 
happyness then y"" Ma*^^^ favour not as you are King and soe 
have it in y'' power to doe me good having never loved y' 
brother and y'" selfe upon that account but as to y'' persons 
had hee Hved hee tould me before hee dyed that the world shuld 
see by what hee did for me that hee had both love and value 
for me and that hee did not doe for me, as my mad lady 
woster,* hee was my frind and alowed me to tell him all my 
grifes and did like a frind advise me and tould me who was 
my frind and who was not S'" the honour y"" Ma:*'^ has don 
me by M"" Grahams has given me great comfort not by the 
present you sent me to releeve me out of the last extremety, 
but by the Kind expressions hee mad me from you, of y"" 
Kindnes to me w"^*" to me is above all things in this world 
having God Knows never loved y"" brother or y*" selfe inter- 
estedly, all you doe for me shall be yours it being my resolu- 
tion never to have any interest but y", and as long as I live to 
serve you and when I dye to dye praying for y". 

•Margaret Somerset, Dowager Marchioness of Worcester, spent her life in 
genteel poverty, petitioning vainly for the return of £91,500 which she 
claimed her husband had spent in the King's service before the Restoration. 
She lost her wits about 1679, and was known thereafter as "the mad Mar- 
chioness of Worcester." She died in 1681. 



HE MOST useful biographies of Nell are Peter Cun- 
ningham, The Story of Nell Givyn, ed. Gordon Goodwin 
(1908) and A. I. Dasent, Nell Gijoynne (1924). For materials 
on her family and background see the Calendars of State Papers 
Domestic; E. B. Chancellor, The Annals of Covent Garden 
(n.d.); Sir Francis Fane's unpublished "Commonplace Book," 
Shakespeare Library, Stratford-on-Avon; and Samuel Pepys, 
Diary (1893). The best versions of the satires quoted are 
found in British Museum Harleian MSS. 6913, 7319. 


For the background of the years 1650- 1660 see Arthur 
Bryant, King Charles II (1933); Gilbert Burnet, Bishop Bzir- 
net^s History of His Oivn Time (1723); Julia Caruvright, 
Madame (1900); A. I. Dasent, The Private Life of Charles II 
(1927); Allan Fea, Some Beauties of the Seventeenth Century 
(1907); Philip Sergeant, My Lady Castlemaine (191 1); and 
H. D. Traill, Social England (1903). On brothels and bawdy- 
houses see Pepys, Diary, and Ned Ward, The London Spy 
(1703). For the theatre see W. R. Chetwood, A General His- 
tory of the Stage (1749); Edmund Curll, Betterton's History 
of the English Stage (1741); Leshe Hotson, The Covwwn- 
ivealth and Restoration Stage (1928); and William Van Len- 


294 ^^^^ Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

nep in Joseph Quincy Adams Memorial Studies (1949). For 
satires see Harleian MS. 7319. 


Bryant, Charles II; Calendars of State Papers Domestic; 
Dasent, Nell Gwynne; Anthony Hamilton, Memoirs of Count 
Grammont, ed. Gordon Goodwin (1903); Pepys, Diary, For 
stage and acting see Curll, Betterton^s History; Montague 
Summers, The Restoration Theatre (1934), The Flay house 
of Pepys ( 1935) ; and the prologues, epilogues, and stage direc- 
tions of contemporary plays. The description of the audience 
is an imaginative reconstruction. For Dryden's friends see 
Winifred, Lady Burghclere, Buckingham (1903); V. De Sola 
Pinto, Sir Charles Sedley ( 1927) ; Brice Harris, Dorset (1940) ; 
and J. H. Wilson, The Court Wits of the Restoration (1948). 


Eleanor Boswell, The Restoration Court Stage (1932); 
Burghclere, Buckingham; Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the 
Plague Year (1722); John Evelyn, Diary (1906); Hamilton, 
Grammont; Harris, Dorset; Allardyce Nicoll, Restoration 
Drama (1923); David Ogg, England in the Reign of Charles 
II (1934); Pepys, Diary; V. De Sola Pinto, Rochester (1935); 
Traill, Social England; Anthony Wood, Life and Times 
(1900). For a comment on The Chances see Nathaniel Lee's 
preface to The Princess of Cleve (1689); on Nell's new suit 
see Notes and Queries, 2nd Series, VII, April 9, 1859; for Lady 
Honora O'Brien see Historical Manuscripts Commission, 
Le Fleming MS. 

The Bulstrode Papers (1897); Burghclere, Buckingham; 
Burnet, History; Curll, Betterton's History; Fane, "Common- 

Bibliographical Notes 295 

place Book"; Richard Flecknoe, Euterpe Revived (1675); 
NicoU, Restoration Drama; Pepys, Diary; Pinto, Sedley; Savile 
Correspondence (1859); and Eliot Warburton, Prince Rupert 
(1849). For Nell's dance with Lacy see Evelyn, Diary, the 
letters of Mrs. Evelyn. For her part in The Virgin Marty r, see 
N & Q. CXCIII, February 21, 1948. For her role as Pulcheria 
see Montague Summers, Essays in Petto (n.d.). Accounts of 
the Killigrew-Buckingham quarrels appear in HMC, SeveJith 
Report, and The Review of English Studies, XII, 1936. 


Burghclere, Buckingham; Burnet, History; Bryant, Charles 
11; Dasent, Charles 11; K. C. Hurd-Mead, A History of Women 
in Medicine (1938); H. M. Imbert-Terry, A Misjudged Mon- 
arch (1917); Ogg, England; The Rochester-Savile Letters 
(1940); and Sergeant, Castlemaine. For Nell's residences and 
the birth of her son see Fane, "Commonplace Book"; Wood, 
Life and Times, On the Roos case see Burghclere, Bucking- 
ham; Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, Life (1761); The 
Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell, ed. H. M. Margoliouth 
(1927). For Keroualle see Cartwright, Madam; H. For- 
neron, Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth (1887); 
and the anonymous Francelia (1734). This brief biography 
is a mixture of fact and fiction. 


Burghclere, Buckingham; Cunningham, Nell Gwyn; Dasent, 
Nell Gwynne; John Dennis, Familiar Letters ( 172 1 ) ; Evelyn, 
Diary; Fane, "Commonplace Book"; Fomeron, Keroualle; 
Francelia; J. J. Jusserand, A French Ambassador at the Court 
of Charles 11 (1892); Marvell, Letters; Rochester-Savile Let- 
ters; Sergeant, Castlemaine; and Wood, Life and Tinies. For 
Nell's house see the deeds in the Pierpont Morgan Library, 

296 Nell Gwyn: Royal Mistress 

New York, or my description, N &Q, CXCIV, April 9, 1949; 
see also A. I. Dasent, The History of St. Jameses Square 
(1895); N. G. Brett-James, The Growth of Stuart London 
(1935); Pepys Diary; and Savile Correspondence (Pepys' 
friend. Sir William Coventry, paid £ i ,400 for the leasehold 
of the house in October, 1667). On Nell's portrait see C. H. 
Collins Baker, Lely and the Stuart Portrait Painters (191 2). 
The story of Nell and her footman is quoted from Henry 
Fielding, Tom Jones (1749). For the Coventry case see Mar- 
veil, Letters; Ogg, England; Journals of the House of Com- 
mons; and satires in Poems on Affairs of State (17 16). For 
Lady Clanbrassil see Calendars of State Papers Domestic; Con- 
way Letters (1930); and G. E. C, Complete Peerage. For 
young Hughes see HMC, Rutland Papers; for Keroualle see 
HMC, Seventh Report, and The Secret History of the Reigns 
of K. Charles II and K. James II (1690). 


Burghclere, Buckingham; Burnet, History; Bryant, Charles 
II; Dasent, Charles II; Evelyn, Diary; Fane, ''Commonplace 
Book"; Francelia; Fomeron, Keroualle; Marvell, Letters; 
Pepys, Diary; Sergeant, Castlemaine; Williamson Letters 
(1874); Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses (181 3). The 
portrait of Nell as a shepherdess (or an excellent copy) is in 
the Columbus Art Gallery, Columbus, Ohio. It has been over- 
painted to cover Nell's bare breast. On Cleveland, Mulgrave, 
and Savile see Calendars of State Papers Domestic; Essex Cor- 
respondence ( 191 3) ; The Conduct of the Earl of Nottingham 
(1941); and Rochester-Savile Letters. For Buckingham's af- 
fairs see Conway Letters; HMC, Sixth Report and Ninth Re- 
port. For Rochester see Gilbert Burnet, Life of the Earl of 
Rochester (1680). For Nell's warrants and pension see HMC, 
Third Report and Calendars of Treasury Books. On Pepys 

Bibliographical Notes 297 

and Nell see A Descriptive Catalogue of Naval Manuscripts 


For Nell's income see Calendars of Treasury Books; Secret 
Service Accounts of Charles II and James II ( 1 85 1 ) . The col- 
lection of Nell's household accounts was originally seen by 
Cunningham, who printed the silversmith's, sedan-chair 
maker's, and chairmen's bills in his Nell Gnjoyn. For the bill 
from the Duke's Theatre see The Harvard Library Bulletin^ 
Autumn, 1950. Thirty of the original collection of bills are 
now in the Ohio State University Library. For additional in- 
formation on customs and manners see Arthur Bryant, The 
England of Charles II (1935); Pepys, Diary; G. S. Thompson, 
Life in a Noble Household (1937); Traill, Social England; 
F. P. and M. M. Vemey, Memoirs of the Verney FaTnily 
(1907). See for other items Williamson Letters and Colley 
Gibber, Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber (1740). 

Bryant, Charles II; Bulstrode Papers; Burghclere, Bucking- 
ham; Calendars of State Papers Domestic; Cunningham, Nell 
Gnjoyn; Dasent, Nell Gwynne; Evelyn Diary; Fomeron, 
Keroualle; Hatton Correspondence (1878); Lewis Alelville, 
The Windsor Beauties (1928); and Sergeant, Castle?7mine. 
For Nell's jokes see Fane, "Commonplace Book"; and HAIC, 
Second Report, For her Privy Chamber appointment see 
Samuel Pegge, Curialia (1791); her quarrels with Portsmouth, 
Lettres de Madame de Sevigne ( 1862) ; her gifts, pensions, and 
deeds, HMC, Ninth Report, House of Commons Journals, 
Calendars of Treasury Books, and the deeds in the Pierpont 
Morgan Library. For the poems quoted see ^^'a^er, Works 
(1744); Poems on Affairs of State; and Harleian MS. 6914. 

298 Nell Gnjoyn: Royal Mistress 

On Rochester see Fane, "Commonplace Book"; Rochester- 
Savile Letters; and Francelia. 


Andrew Browning, The Earl of Danby (1944); Bryant, 
Charles II; Burghclere, Buckingham; Calendars of State Papers 
Domestic; Essex Correspondence; Forneron, Keroualle; Hat- 
ton Correspondence; HMC, Seventh Report and Ormonde 
Papers; Marvell, Letters; Ogg, England; Rochester's Jokes 
(n.d.); Savile Correspondence; Wood, Life and Times. On 
NelFs friends see Allan Fea, King Monmouth ( 1902) ; Roches- 
ter-Savile Letters; Wilson, Court Wits; HMC, Rutland Papers; 
N &Qj 8th Series, XI, January 23, 1897. For Montague's plots 
see Browning, Danby; Rochester-Savile Letters; Sergeant, 
Castlemaine; G. Steinman Steinman, A Memoir of Mrs. Myd- 
dleton (1864). 


Bryant, Charles II; Burghclere, Buckingham; John Dickson 
Carr, The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey (1936); Julia 
Cartwright, Sacharissa (1901); Dasent, Nell Gwynne; For- 
neron, Keroualle; H. C. Foxcroft, Life of Halifax (1898); 
C. B. R. Kent, Early History of the Tories (1908); Narcissus 
Luttrell, Brief Relation of State Affairs ( 1857) ; Lady RusseWs 
Letters (1854) '■> Verney Memoirs; H. E. Woodbridge, Sir Wil- 
liam Temple (1940). On Nell's finances see Calendars of 
Treasury Books; Calendars of State Papers Domestic; and 
HMC, Ormonde Papers. On her mother's death see HMC, 
Buccleuch MS; Thomas Faulkner, Description of Chelsea 
(1829); C. J. Feret, Fulham Old and New (1930); and the 
satires quoted in Chapter I. For the goldsmith story see The 
London Chronicle, August 15-18, 1778. "Ephelia" published 
her works as Female Poems on Several Occasions (1679). For 

* Bibliographical Notes 299 

Nell at Newmarket see Lady Newdigate-Newdigate, Cavalier 
and Puritan (1901); All-Souls MS. 171, Bodleian Library. On 
Nell and Monmouth see HMC, Ormonde Papers and Seventh 
Report; Cartwright, Sacharissa; and Diary of Henry Sidney 
(1843). For the death of Lord James see HMC, Seventh Re- 
port; Anthony Wood, Fasti Oxonienses (181 5). For Bethel 
see N&Q, 7th Series, IX, March 15,1 890; for Nell's Windsor 
house see N & Q, 2nd Series, VIII, October 29, 1859. The 
satires alluded to all appear in Harleian MSS. 6913 and 7319. 


J. L. Anderton, Life of Thomas Ken (1851); Bryant, 
Charles II, and Samuel Pepys, the Years of Peril (1935); Cal- 
endars of State Papers Domestic; Calendar of Inner Temple 
Records (1901); Cunningham, Nell Givyn; Evelyn, Diary; 
Forneron, Keroualle; HMC, Seventh Report; Lady RusselPs 
Letters; Letters of Humphrey Pride aux (1875); Luttrell, 
Brief Relation; Roger North, Examen (1740); Roxburghe 
Ballads (1883); Warburton, Prince Rupert. For the story of 
"the Protestant Whore" see James Granger, A Biographical 
History of England (1775); deeds to Bestwood Park are 
recorded in B. M. Additional Charters, 15,862-64; on Nell's 
pension see HMC, Ormonde Papers; for her gambling see 
Theophilus Lucas, Memoirs of Gamesters (17 14); on Edward 
Young see HMC, Bath MS; for Nell's charity see Anna Jame- 
son, Memoirs of the Beauties of the Court of Charles II ( 1 85 1 ) . 
The satires quoted are in Harleian MSS. 6913, 7317, and 7319. 


Bryant, Charles II; Burnet, History; Calendars of State 
Papers Doiiiestic; Raymond Crawfurd, Last Days of Charles 
II (1909); Sir John Dalrymple, Meijwirs of Great Britain 
( 1773 ) ; Dasent, Nell Gwynne, and St. Ja?nes's Square; Evelyn, 

300 Nell Givyn: Royal Mistress ^ 

Diary; Allan Fea, James II and His Wives (1908); Forneron» 
Keroualle; Luttrell, Brief Relation; Sergeant, Castlemaine. For 
St. Albans' lodgings see N & Q, CLXII, September 10, 1932; 
for his trip abroad see Calendars of State Tapers Domestic and 
HMC, Downshire MS. For mourning customs see Evelyn, 
Diary, and HMC, Ormonde Papers. On Nell's finances see 
Calendars of Treasury Books; Dasent, Nell Gnjoynne; HMC, 
MS in Various Collections; and Secret Service Accounts. For 
ballads see Roxburghe Ballads, and Bagford Ballads (1878). 


Burghclere, Buckingham; Cunningham, Nell Gwyn; Dasent, 
Nell Gwynne; Evelyn, Diary; Fea, King Monmouth; For- 
neron, Keroualle; Harris, Dorset; Luttrell, Brief Relation; 
Wilson, Court Wits. For Germaine and the Duchess of Nor- 
folk see A Complete Collection of State Trials (1809-28); and 
The Norfolke Divorce (1700). For Nell's finances see Secret 
Service Accounts; Calendars of Treasury Books. The Treas- 
ury note for ^T 1,500 is in the Ohio State University Library. 
For libels mentioning Nell see Harleian MSS. 6914, 7319, 
and Poems on Affairs of State. For her coat of arms see N &Q, 
2nd Series, V, January 2, 1858. On Nell's sickness and death 
see Charles MacLaurin, Mere Mortals (1925); Hatton Cor- 
respondence; HMC, Downshire MS; N & Q, CLXIII, Sep- 
tember 10, 1932; The Letter-Book of Sir George Etherege 
(1928); for elegies see Harleian MS. 7319, and A Little Ark 



Arlington, Henry Bennet, Earl of, 

120, 129, 134, 178, 185. 
Arran, Richard Butler, Earl of, 127, 


Barillon, Paul (Marquis de Brange), 

Barry, Elizabeth, 43, 136, 205. 

Beauclerc, Lord James, 130, 165, 192, 
193, 210, 220, 233. 

Beavour, Mr., 259. 

Bedloe,' William, 219. 

Behn, Aphra, 223. 

Bell, Richard, 126. 

Bennet, "Lady," 10, 23. 

Berkeley, John, Lord, 127. 

Berry, John, 281. 

Berwick, James Fitzjames, Duke of, 

Bethel, Slingsby, 234. 

Betterton, Mrs. Mary, 40. 

Betterton, Thomas, 39. 

Boutel, Anne, 43. 

Bowman, John, 170. 

Bridges, George Rodney, 202, 213. 

Browne, Mr., 10, 11. 

Buckhurst, Lord. See Dorset, Earl 

Buckingham, George Villiers, Duke 
of. The Chances, 60; character, 
64; arrested for treason, 6$^ his 
mistress, 6$\ sent to Tower, 75; 
beats Killigrew, 79; schemes for 
power, 83; "manages" Nell, 85; 
duels with Shrewsbury, 86; plans 
to ruin York, 104; hated by Ker- 
oualle, no; son born, 123; The 
Rehearsal, 133; is chief minister, 
134; falls from power, 146-48; in 

Tower (1677), 200-04; plots 
against Portsmouth, 231; retire- 
ment and death, 277. See also, 19, 
45, 92, 107, 109, 128, 136, 138, 175, 
207, 208, 213, 254. 

Buckingham, Mary ViUiers, Duch- 
ess of, 19, 79, 88. 

Burnet, Bishop Gilbert, 22, 85, 137. 

Byron, Eleanor, Lady, loi. 

Calow, William, 161. 

Carteret, Margaret de, 10 1. 

Cavendish, William, Lord, 149, 230. 

Cassels, John, 11, 140, 153. 

Castlemaine, Roger Palmer, Earl of, 
20, 22, lOI. 

Castlemaine, Lady. See Cleveland, 
Duchess of. 

Catherine, Queen, 45, 95, 100, 106, 
130, 140, 181, 222, 247. 

Chamberlain, Doll, 66. 

Charles II, King, Battle of Wor- 
cester, 17; adventure of the oak, 
18; restoration, 20; pursues Fran- 
ces Stuart, 37; returns after 
plague, 54; episode with Nell and 
Queen, 96; character, 99; mis- 
tresses and children, 10 1; stops 
divorce scheme, 106; signs Treaty 
of Dover, 108; meets Keroualle, 
109; chats with Nell in garden, 
118; quips about Wycherley, 122; 
mock-marriage with Keroualle, 
129; war with Holland, 133; peace 
treaty, 149; has the pox, 151; pen- 
sions ladies, 152; loves Mazarin, 
186; visits Nell instead of Ports- 
mouth, 190; acknowledges Nell's 
sons, 192; dissolves Parliament, 




221; seriously ill, 226; at Oxford 
(1681), 237; makes Ken a bishop, 
249; escapes Rye House ambush, 
252; makes Nell's son a duke, 257; 
plans to make Nell a countess, 
262; sickness and death, 263-64. 

Chatillon, Alexis Henry, Marquis 
de, 202, 209, 212. 

Chennet, John, 160. 

Chesterfield, Philip Stanhope, Earl 
of, 22, 37. 

Chiffinch, William, 103, 117, 151, 

2", 233- 

Cholmley, William, 12, 281. 

Churchill, Arabella, 161, 197, 277. 

Churchill, John, 130, 135, 140, 272. 

Clarendon, Edward Hyde, Earl of, 
19, 6s, 83. 

Clanbrassil, Alice Hamilton, Coun- 
tess of, 127-28. 

Clanbrassil, Henry Hamilton, Earl 
of, 127. 

Cleveland, Barbara Palmer, Duchess 
of, character, 21-22; affair with 
Hart, 81; bribes Mrs. Corey, 91; 
her children, loi; her lovers to 
1670, no; created duchess, no; af- 
fair with Wycherley, 122; affair 
with Churchill, 130; affair with 
Mulgrave, 135; her daughter Bar- 
bara, 139; her children ennobled, 
140; in love with Savile, 150; her 
pensions, 152; her sons become 
dukes, 180; affair with Montagu, 
183; affair with de Chatillon, 202; 
gets revenge on Montagu, 212; af- 
fair with Goodman, 261; second 
marriage and old age, 26S-66. See 
also, 30, 37, 45, S5^ 64, 75, 80, 83, 
88, 100, 121, 125, 141, 169, 179, 208, 
222, 242. 

Clifford, Sir Thomas, 134, 141. 

Cloche, James de la, loi. 

Coker, Robert, 259. 

Coleman, Edward, 219. 

College, Stephen, 241. 

Colt, WiUiam Dutton, 243, 248. 

Conway, Edward, Lord, 146. 

Cooke, John, 161, 165. 

Corey, Anne, 29, 91. 

Coques, John, 169. 

Cornwall, Col. Henry, 273. 

Courtin, Honore, 190, 197. 

Coventry, Henry, 208. 

Coventry, Sir John, 124. 

Cresswell, Madam, 23. 

Croissy, Charles Colbert de, 99, no, 

130, 134. 
Cromwell, Oliver, 18, 19. 
Crowne, John, 153. 

Danby, Thomas Osborne, Earl of, 
141, 143, 146, 148, 177, 178, 179, 
182, 200, 204, 208, 221, 262. 

Davenant, Sir William, 25. 

Davis, Mary (Moll), 69, 72, 84, 85, 
86, 88, 104, no, n9, 123, 125, 144, 
153, 191, 242. 

Defoe, Daniel, 54. 

Dorchester, Katherine Sedley, 
Countess of, 277. 

Dorset, Charles Sackvile, Earl of, 
character, 66; sees Nell on stage, 
74; takes her to Epsom, 75; leaves 
Nell, 80; marries and becomes an 
earl, 153; Nell's trustee (1677), 
199; aids Buckingham, 201; Nell's 
trustee (1679), 233; retires (1686), 
277. See also, 31, 37, 40, 45, 81, 86, 
103, 109, 136, 210, 243. 

Dryden, John, 44, 45, 66, 89, 93, 11$, 
133, 176. 

Duffett, Thomas, 154. 

Duncombe, Charles, 277. 

Duncombe, Stint, 243, 248. 

Eastland, Airs., 29. 

Edling, Anne, 281. 

Essex, Arthur Capel, Earl of, 253. 

Etherege, Sir George, 37, 46, 86, 

243, 248, 277. 
Evelyn, John, s^, n8, 129, 244, 262. 

Fairbome, Dame Margery, 279, 281. 
Falmouth, Mary Berkeley, Countess 
of, 103, 153. 



Fane, Sir Francis, 8, 95. 
Fanshaw, William, 205. 
Felton, Thomas, 199. 
Fielding, General Robert, 266. 
Fitzharris, Edward, 241. 
Flecknoe, Richard, 90. 
Forster, Guy, 12, 281. * 
Fox, Sir Stephen, 276. 
Frazier, Sir Alexander, 232. 
Frazier, Carey, 232. 
Frazier, James, 232. 

Gachon, Mr. de, 260. 

Germaine, John, 273-275. 

Gloucester, Henry, Duke of, 18, 21. 

Godfrey, Sir Edmund Bury, 216, 

Godolphin, Sidney, 213, 262. 

Goodman, Cardonnel, 261. 

Grafton, George Fitzroy, Duke of, 
loi, 140, 181, 228, 259, 261. 

Graham, James, 268, 271. 

Graham, Richard, 276. 

Grammont, Philiberte, Comte de, 
185, 188. 

Greene, Catherine (Pegge), Lady, 
loi, 102, 119, 142, 210. 

Griffith (Griffin), Edward, 119, 259. 

Groundes, Thomas, 151, 161, 165, 

Guy, Henry, 136, 224, 262, 268, 277. 

Gwyn, Ellen, horoscope, 6; her fa- 
ther, 7; her mother, 7-9; her sister 
Rose, 10-12; her childhood, 17- 
20; in a bawdyhouse, 23; an 
orange-girl, 26; mistress to Hart, 
31; first mention as an actress, 31; 
Drury Lane lodgings, 35; stage 
apprenticeship, 41; description, 43; 
The Siege of Urbin, 44; The In- 
dian Emperor, 44-47; The English 
Monsieur, 59; The Humorous 
Lieutenant, 59; The Chances, 60; 
her church, 63; her friends, 64- 
66\ Secret Love, 67; performance 
at Court, 69; Knight of the Burn- 
ing Pestle, 69; The Surprisal, 70; 
All Mistaken, 71-73; at Epsom 

with Buckhurst, 76; returns to 
stage, 80; quarrel with Beck Mar- 
shall, 81; Flora's Vagaries, 81; her 
swearing, 82; Philaster, 82; sum- 
moned to Whitehall, 84; The 
Duke of Lerma, 87; The Virgin 
Martyr, 88; An Evening's Love, 
89; Damoiselles a la Mode, 90; 
Catiline, 91; sees The Island 
Princess, 92; dances with Lacy, 
92; The Sisters, 92; Tyrannic 
Love, 93; discovered with King, 
95; leaves stage, 95; Charles bora 
(1670), 107; first Pall Mall house, 
no; returns to stage, 112; Con- 
quest of Granada, 116; second 
Pall Mall house (1671), 117; por- 
trait, 119; her coachman fights for 
her, 121; birthday party for King, 
121; competes with Moll Davis, 
12:?; affair of Coventry's nose. 
t24; attacks against her, 125; ar 
Windsor, 127; affair of Lady 
Clanbrassil, 128; James bom, 130: 
134; portrait as shepherdess, 138; 
gets pension for Rose, 140; ru- 
mored choked to death, 141; seeks 
boxes Buckingham's ears (1671). 
a title (1673), 142; retort to Ports- 
mouth, 143; advice to King, 143; 
visits Chiffinch, 144; loyal to 
Buckingham, 146; at Windsor 
(1674), 151; her pension, 152; 
brother-in-law dies, 153; imitates 
Portsmouth's portrait, 154; mourns 
Cham of Tartary, 154; her in- 
come (1675), 159; her household, 
160-61; dinners, 162; beer and ale, 
163; medicines, 165; clothing, 167; 
sedan-chair, 168; bedroom and 
furnishings, 169-70; entertains 
King, 170; in politics, 175; attacks 
Danby, 178; jests with Cleveland, 
179; Lady of the Privy Chamber, 
181; complains about Portsmouth, 
182; pretends to mourn for Ports- 
mouth, 189; gets offices and 
grants, 189; sons acknowledged 



(i6j6), 192; bids for French 
bribes, 197; episode of the chick- 
ens, 198; estates in Ireland, 199; 
visits Buckingham in Tower, 202; 
defies Danby, 205; plate stolen, 
207; in a cabal (1678), 208; letter 
to Hyde, 209-11; betrayed by 
Lady Harvey, 211; enjoys New- 
market, 214; praised by Whit- 
comb, 215; a pope-burning, 220; 
popular with mob, 223; flattered 
by Behn (1679), 223; death of her 
mother, 225; gay at Newmarket, 
227; helps Monmouth, 228; ru- 
mored dead, 229; attacked by 
Tories, 230; death of Lord James 
(1680), 233; gets Burford House, 
233; mistaken for Portsmouth, 
240; gets land in Bestwood Park, 
242; keeps open house, 243; at 
Newmarket (1681), 244; gets Colt 
away from Moll Knight, 248; 
troubles with Ken, 249; her gam- 
bling and charity, 250; aids a 
clergyman, 251; her son a duke, 
257; letter to Mrs. Jennings 
(1684), 258; outlawed for debt, 
267; helped by James II, 271, 276; 
cards with Duchess of Norfolk, 
273-74; her coat of arms, 278; 
stricken by apoplexy, 279; her 
will, 280; her death, 282; letters, 

Gwyn, Mrs. Helena, 7-9, 164, 165, 

Gwyn, Rose, 10-12, 26, 27, 29, 140, 
167, 224, 279, 281. 

Gwynne, Francis, 276. 

Haines, Joseph, 243. 

Halifax, George Savile, Marquis of, 

150, 234, 262. 
Hall, Jacob, no, 122, 169. 
Harrell, Dr. Christian, 281. 
Harris, Henry, 210. 
Hart, Charles, 30, 31, 40, 44, 47, 58, 

60, 67, 71, 74, 80, 81, 82, 89, 93, 

116, 253. 

Harvey, Sir Daniel, 91. 

Harvey, Lady Elizabeth, 91, 184, 

185, 197, 209, 210, 277. 
Hawkes, Elizabeth, 281. 
Hawley, Francis, Lord, 66. 
Hazlerigg, Mrs., 99. 
Henningham, William, 149. 
Henrietta-Maria, Queen Dowager, 

18, 21. 
Hewitt, Sir George, 118, 233, 243. 
Hollyman, Lady, 281. 
Howard, James, 59, 71. 
Howard, Lady Mary, 231. 
Howard, Sir Robert, 40, 44, 70, 83, 

87, 199, 224. 
Howard, Sir Thomas, 6$, 83, in, 

Howe, Richard, 167. 
Huddlestone, Father John, 17, 263. 
Hughes, Margaret, 29, 93, 127, 243, 

Hughes, Mr., 127. 
Hyde, Lawrence, 189, 208, 209, 213, 

223, 231, 262, 280. 

Jeffreys, George, Judge, 273. 
Jenkins, Sir Leoline, 212. 
Jenkins, Capt. WiUiam, 86. 
Jennings, Mrs. Frances, 197, 258. 
Jermyn, Henry, 6^, no. 
Jones, Elizabeth, 232. 

Ken, Bishop Thomas, 249, 

Keroualle, Louise de. See Portsmouth, 
Duchess of. 

Keroualle, Sieur de, 179. 

Kildare, John Fitzgerald, Earl of, 

Killigrew, Henry, character, 10; in- 
terested in Rose Gwyn, n; loves 
Lady Shrewsbury, 6^; beaten by 
Buckingham, 79; leaves England, 
83; beaten by Lady Shrewsbury's 
men, 92; abuses Nell, 206; un- 
touched by times, 277. See also, 
26, 46, 88, 128, 136, 153, 207. 

Killigrew, Thomas, 10, 25, 31, 40, 
67, lOI. 



Kirke, Mrs. Mary, 121, 153. 

Kirke, Mary (Mall), 153. 

Knepp, Mrs. Mary, 29, 60, 62, 81, 

84, 87. 
Knight, Mary, 103, 119, 122, 153, 

161, 188, 197, 210, 243, 248, 279. 
Kynaston, Edward, 26, 30. 

Lacy, John, 27, 30, 39, 40, 72, 92, 


Lansdowne, Charles Grenville, Lord, 
243, 248. 

Lauderdale, James Maitland, Duke 
of, 134, 146, 178, 250. 

Laune, Peter de, 252, 259. 

Lawson, Jane, 231. 

Le Fevre, Dr. Joshua, 281. 

Lely, Sir Peter, 119. 

Lichfield, Charlotte (Fitzroy), 
Countess of, loi, 140, 201. 

Lichfield, Edward Lee, Earl of, 202. 

Lister, Dr., 281. 

Long, Bridget, 281. 

Louis XIV, Kjng, 18, 19, 100, 107, 
130, 134, 143, 151, 214, 241, 275. 

Louvois, Frangois le Tellier, Mar- 
quis de, 198. 

Lower, Dr. William, 260, 281. 

Lumley, Henry, 243. 

Mancini, Marie, 19. 

Mancini, Olympia, 19. 

Marshall, Anne, 29, 44, 46, 47. 

Marshall, Rebecca, 47, 81, 87, 88, 
93, 136. 

Marvell, Andrew, 201. 

May, Baptist, 125, 136, 189, 201. 

Mazarin, Armande de la Ponte, 
Duke, 184-85. 

Mazarin, Hortense (Mancini), 
Duchess of, character, 184; visited 
by Nell, 197; accused of being in 
Popish Plot, 222; an annex to the 
harem, 242; wins £1400 from Nell; 
old age, 265. See also, 189, 208, 
232, 254, 260. 

Mazarin, Jules, Cardinal, 18, 19, 184. 

Meggott, Dean Richard, 249. 

Meggs, Mrs. Mary (Orange Moll), 

26, 29, 80. 
Middleton, Charles Middleton, Earl 

of, 180. 
Mohun, Michael, 30, 39, 40, 44. 
Monaco, Louis Grimaldi, Prince of, 

Monk, General George, 20. 
Monmouth, Anne Scott, Duchess 

of, 75. 
Monmouth, James Scott, Duke of, 

loi, 138, 140, 149, 152, 227, 228, 

230, 240, 253, 272. 
Montagu, Ralph, no, 177, 183, 185, 

208, 211, 212, 221. 
Mulgrave, John Sheffield, Earl of, 

119, 135, 136, 138, 140, 149, 153. 
Myddleton, Mrs. Jane, 211. 
Myddleton, Jenny, 211, 213. 

Newport, Frank, 149. 

Nokes, James, 115. 

Norfolk, Henry Howard, Duke of, 

Norfolk, Mary Howard (Mor- 

daunt), Duchess of, 153, 197, 243, 

254, 259, 273-75, 278. 
Northumberland, Elizabeth Wrio- 

thesley, Countess of, 150, 183. 
Northumberland, Henr)' Fitzroy, 

Duke of, loi, 140, 152, 250, 258, 


Gates, Titus, 215, 219. 

O'Brien, Lady Honora, 70. 

Ogle, Sir Thomas, 46. 

Orange, Mary, Princess of, 18, 21. 

Orange, William, 2nd Prince of, 

Orange, William, 3rd Prince of, 

149, 201, 205, 214, 241, 273. 
Orleans, Philip, Duke of, 21, 109. 
Orleans, Henrietta, Duchess of, 18, 

21, 107, 109. 
Ormonde, James Butler, Duke of, 

199, 288. 
Orrery, Mary Boyle, Countess of, 




Oxford, Aubrey de Vere, Earl of, 
40, 257. 

Page, Damaris, 23. 

Pembroke, Philip Herbert, 7th Earl 
of, 179, 246. 

Pembroke, Thomas Herbert, 8th 
Earl of, 230, 280. 

Pepys, Elizabeth, 81. 

Pepys, Samuel, 23, 35, 36, 47, 48, 53, 
SS, 59y 62, 68, 75, 80, 87, 88, 92, 
141, 153, 246. 

Pigeare, Philip, 153. 

Plymouth, Charles Fitzcharles, Earl 
of, loi, 102, 142. 

Poietvin, John, 259. 

Portland, Frances Weston, Countess 
of, 119, 140, 197. 

Portland, Margaret Bentinck, Duch- 
ess of, 249. 

Portsmouth, Louise de Keroualle, 
Duchess of, on Nell's swearing, 
29; flirts with King, 109; brought 
to England, no; coy with King, 
122; surrenders at Euston, 129; 
gains political power, 134; son 
bom, 139; created duchess, 142; 
orders King to prorogue Parlia- 
ment, 144; ill with pox, 151; her 
pension, 152; mourns for de Ro- 
han, 154; her sister, 178; her son 
a duke, 181; her sickness (1676), 
188; gets forfeited estates, 199; 
seriously ill (1677-78), 206; ac- 
cused in Plot, 222; flirts with 
Whigs, 234; goes abroad, 245; re- 
turns, 247; caught with Vendome, 
254; seriously ill (1684), 261; sails 
for France, 266; old age, 275. See 
also, 120, 125, 140, 143, 146, 148, 
168, 180, 182, 183, 190, 197, 198, 
204, 214, 225, 229, 231, 239, 242, 

Prance, Miles, 219. 

Preston, Richard Graham, Lord, 

Quinn, Anne, 70. 

Rawlins, Giles, 6$. 

Rhodes, Richard, 81. 

Richmond, Charles Stuart, Duke of, 
40, 71, 88. 

Richmond, Mary (Villiers), Dowa- 
ger Duchess of, 120, 231. 

Richmond and Lennox, Charles 
Richmond, Duke of, 139, 180, 190, 
242, 258, 263. 

Roberts, Henry, 167. 

Roberts, Jane, 103. 

Robins, Henry, 167. 

Rochester, John Wilmot, Earl of, 
character, 66, adviser to Nell, in, 
136, 2n; his mistress, 136; exploit 
with sundial, 180; in exile, 188; his 
daughter by Mrs. Barr)% 206; dies, 
233. See also, 37, 40, 46, 103, 142, 
149, 190, 199, 201, 203, 210. 

Rohan, Louis, Chevalier de, 154. 

Roos, Anne Manners, Lady, 104. 

Roos, John Manners, Lord, 105. 

Rous, John, 241. 

Rupert, Prince, 40, 93, 127, 250. 

Russell, William, Lord, 177. 

St. Albans, Charles Beauclerc, Duke 

of, 12, 107, ni, 163, 165, 167, 190, 

192, 228, 233, 250, 257, 258, 259, 

278, 282. 
St. Albans, Henry Jermyn, Earl of, 

18, n8, 192, 257. 
St. Evremonde, Charles de, 189. 
Saint-Real, Cesar Vichaud, Abbe de, 

Salisbury, James Cecil, Earl of, 200, 

Sandys, Lady Lucy, 161, 279. 
Savile, Henry, 46, 136, 139, 150, 180, 

183, 188, 201, 205, 208, 210, 2n, 

213, 223, 243, 262, 277. 
Sawyer, Sir Robert, 280. 
Scarsdale, Nicolas Leake, Earl of, 

Scroope, Sir Carr, 149, 183, 205, 210, 

Scroope, Lady Mary, 183. 



Sedley, Sir Charles, 10, 37, 40, 46, 
66, 'j6, 86, 92, 109, 277. 

Seymour, Sir Edward, 147. 

Shadwell, Mrs. Anne, 40. 

Shadwell, Thomas, 210. 

Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Coo- 
per, Earl of, 134, 146, 148, 175, 
182, 200, 204, 222, 227, 235, 240, 
242, 248. 

Shannon, Elizabeth, Lady, loi. 

Shepherd, Fleetwood, 136, 215, 243, 

Shrewsbury, Anna Maria Talbot, 
Countess of, 45, 6^, 79, 83, 88, 92, 
no, 119, 121, 123, 128, 146, 197, 
202, 213, 277. 

Shrewsbury, Francis Talbot, Earl 
of, 6$, 86. 

Shrewsbury, Charles Talbot, Earl 
of, 147, 243, 254. 

Sidney, Algernon, 177. 

Sidney, Henry, 280. 

Southampton, Charles Fitzroy, Duke 
of, loi, 140, 181. 

Southesk, Anne Carnegie (Hamil- 
ton), Countess of, 22, 211. 

Stuart, Frances, 37, 38, 45, 71, 88. 

Sunderland, Robert Spencer, Earl 
of, 177, 212, 221. 

Sussex, Anne Lennard (Fitzroy), 
Countess of, 10 1, 140, 189, 212. 

Sussex, Thomas Lennard, Earl of, 

Temple, Mother, 23. 
Temple, Sir William, 209. 
Tennison, Dr. Thomas, 279, 280, 
281, 282. 

Thynne, Thomas, 230. 

Tonge, Dr. Ezrael, 219. 

Topham, John, 161. 

Trant, Patrick, 258. 

Tudor, Lady Mary, 144, 257, 265. 

Turner, Mrs., 204. 

Uphill, Susanna, 29, 

Vaughan, John, Lord, 75. 
Vendome, Philippe de (Grand 

Prior), 245, 254, 260. 
Vere, Diana de, 257. 
Villiers, Sir Edward, 233. 
ViUiers, Frank, 149. 

Waller, Edmund, 186. 
Walter, Lucy, loi, 205, 234. 
Warner, John, 13, 279, 281, 282. 
Weaver, Elizabeth, 40, 104. 
Wells, Winifred, 103. 
Wharton, Lieutenant Henry, 229. 
Wharton, Philip, Lord, 200, 203. 
Whitcomb, Robert, 215. 
Williams, Lady Susan, 197, 258. 
Wright, Mr., 168. 
Wycherley, William, 122, 130. 

Yarmouth, Charlotte Paston (Fitz- 
roy), Countess of, loi. 

York, Anne Hyde, Duchess of, 21. 

York, James, Duke of, 18, 21, 37, 
45, 57, 108, 141, 171, 204, 221, 226, 
230, 240, 263, 264, 276. 

York, Mary d'Estes, Duchess of, 

Young, Edward, 249. 

Young, Madam Mary, i6i, 277. 



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